Libya: Not Exactly Neutral

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February 25, 2020: The LNA (Libyan National Army) repeated its demand that the Turks leave the country. As long as the Turks are in Libya there can be no peace. The LNA also pointed out that the Turks are not the invincible imperial conquerors of old. The LNA claims to have killed at least 17 Turks and nearly a hundred of their Syrian Arab mercenaries. Several Turkish UAVs have been shot down and photographed. The Turks deny these claims but back in Turkey, the government is doing its best to suppress news of Turkish military personnel who have died in Libya and buried back in Turkey without any admission of where they died and how.

Turkey claims to have killed at least a hundred LNA personnel so far. If the casualty reports are to be believed then the Turks are taking more of a beating than the LNA, which has always stressed keeping its casualties low. According to Turkish claims, the LNA has lost less than one percent of its strength in the same period that the Turkish mercs lost over three percent and the smaller Turkish military contingent suffered about the same casualty rate. The Russian mercs have casualty rates similar to the Turks while the Russian and Gulf Arab military personnel providing logistical and tech support for the LNA have suffered very few casualties. Most Libyans oppose the Turks and welcome assistance from other Arab states as well as the Russians, who got on well with Libyans on a personnel level. Russian support for the Kaddafi dictatorship came from the Soviet Union, which itself disappeared in 1991. After that, the Russians were no longer as eager to back Kaddafi who seemed to be following the same self-destructive trajectory as the Soviet Union. The GNA is being propped up by the Turks and still depends on independent-minded Islamic militias as well as some militias that are basically criminal gangs with heavy weapons.

Turkey says it is in favor of a negotiated peace between the GNA and the HoR (House of Representatives) government in Tobruk. The HoR was the last elected government and helped organize the LNA. The UN created the GNA in 2016 and from the beginning, this new organization proved unable to exercise control much beyond a few coastal cities. The GNA as it exists was created by making deals with the militias that dominate Tripoli and Misrata to the east. Many of those militias want, or will accept, a religious (Islamic) government for Libya. Currently most of these militias are out for themselves and are basically a network of independent warlords whose only common interest is preventing the LNA from establishing a national government. The LNA has been, since it was founded in 2014, against Islamic terrorists and radicals as well as independent militias.

This mess began when the General National Congress (or GNC) was formed in 2012, right after the 2011 revolution. The GNC existed to create a new constitution for the country to vote on and rule until that is done. Progress was slow and in late 2013 the GNC extended its power for another year. Elections were held in 2014 but the GNC did not like the composition of the new House of Representatives. The UN recognized the House of Representatives but most of the GNC members (who tended to be more tribal and religiously conservative) refused to give up power. The House of Representatives and the government it had formed fled to Tobruk and rallied most of eastern Libya behind them. And this set up the current conflict.

The Empires Strike Back

Russia and Turkey are enemies in Libya, where each backs a different faction in a civil war. Russia backs the better organized, more united and more successful HoR (House of Representatives) government Turkey backs the more recent, UN-approved GNA (government of national accord) which was more tolerant of Islamic groups, including some radicals. The GNA was also dependent on many militias for military and police operations. The HoR sponsored the revival of the armed forces as the LNA (Libyan National Army) and since 2014 that force has gained control over most of the country. It wasn’t just using superior combat power, the LNA was also more effective at negotiating local peace deals and alliances that calmed down the nationwide chaos caused by hundreds of militias emerging during the 2011 rebellion that overthrew a decades-old dictatorship.

The GNA now only controls two large cities (Tripoli and Misrata) on the northwest coast. Recently Russians and Turks have been killing each other near Tripoli and neither will back down. Russia backs the elimination of armed Islamic groups, in addition to Islamic terrorists. GNA officials insist they have the support of most Libyans but there is no evidence of that. The GNA is seen as something backed by foreigners (the UN and now the hated Turks) as well as an incompetent and corrupt operation. A recent example of how inept the GNA can be was a plea for the United States to establish a military base in Libya and protect the GNA from Russian aggression. That idea was denounced even by Libyan supporters of the GNA.

The current Turkish government is Islamic, backs Islamic political movements like the Moslem Brotherhood and will tolerates some Islamic terror groups. The Russians don’t agree with this tolerance towards Islamic political and militant groups. Historically the Turks and Russians were always rivals and often at war with each other. Although the Russian and Turk empires dissolved a century ago, the ancient animosities did not. Now Turkish and Russian forces are fighting each other in Syria and Libya. Both areas used to be part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and both became close to Russia during the Cold War, buying most of their weapons from Russia and cooperating diplomatically. Most Syrians and Libyans are more interested in reviving the Russian relationship than the Turkish one.

Undeterred, the Turks are openly calling on the Russians to decide if they are a friend of Turkey or not. The Russians don’t want to make an open declaration, at least not yet. Turkey is a new customer for Russian weapons and helpful against the sanctions Russia is operating under.

In Libya, there are hundreds of Russian combat advisors and trainers. Most of them have been there since 2018. These troops are civilian contractors working for the Wagner Group, which also has several hundred Russian technical advisors in Libya to keep LNA heavy weapons operational. Earlier in 2019 Russia revealed that it had increased its logistic and maintenance support for the LNA. This support had been going on since late 2018 as an effort to return hundreds of Cold War era Russian armored vehicles and artillery to working order. This work was done with the battle for the Libyan capital Tripoli in mind. The LNA began this campaign on schedule in early 2019. The Russian techs were civilian contractors who identified themselves as working for the Wagner Group, a large Russian military contractor organization that is operating in several other African countries at the behest of the Russian government. Russia was known to be providing this sort of support for the LNA and some leaked documents detailed the extent of that effort.

While Russia has been backing the LNA since 2016, the Turks only recently (mid-2019) came to the rescue of the GNA, which is trying to defend the city of Tripoli, its last stronghold. The Turks favor he GNA because the GNA is largely a collection of militias, several of them described as “Islamic” although not Islamic terrorists. Turkey is apparently also receiving financial backing from Qatar for this Libyan effort.

The Turkish intervention is part of a larger conflict. Turkey is allied with Iran and Qatar against the rest of the Moslem world, especially Egypt and the Gulf Arab oil states. That is a major incentive for the Turks to get involved in Libya.

The Russians are seen as reliable allies of Libya, even though it was Russia which supplied Libya with most of its weapons throughout the Kaddafi era (1960s to 2011) and is now delivering fewer, but more modern ones, like ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and portable anti-aircraft missiles to bring down UAVs. The Turks are seen as a former imperial overlord trying to make a comeback. The Turks also ignore the fact that most Libyans oppose the Islamic conservative militias that the Turks support, and see the Turks as more of a threat than the Russians or Arabs who are backing the LNA.

February 24, 2020: The east Libya HoR (House of Representatives) government has pulled out of UN organized peace talks because the UN was taking too long to approve the HoR officials who would attend the February 27 conference in Switzerland. Many UN officials are determined to keep their creation, the GNA, going. This is despite the fact that the GNA was a flawed concept from the beginning and UN support has only kept this failed idea going long past its expiration date. The UN says it is interested in a negotiated peace deal but the reality that interest is part of a larger plan to keep the GNA alive and somehow destroy the H0R and LNA. Not exactly neutral.

February 21, 2020: LNA leader Hiftar is willing to participate in a ceasefire but only if Turkey withdrew its troops and cease supplying the GNA. The Turks refuse to even consider doing this, yet.

February 20, 2020: The NOC (National Oil Company) reports that oil production has propped to 122,424 BPD (barrels per day). This is the result of the LNA announcing a blockade of the Libyan coast two days ago. The LNA also controls most oil production and export facilities. Last month oil production was 1.25 million BPD. Since 2018 the LNA has controlled most of the oil production and export facilities. The oil income generated goes to the national oil company and the Central Bank which is allowed by the GNA and HoR to purchase essential imports and handle financial matters associated with the oil industry and distribution of imports. The two rival governments generally honor this agreement because either government could disrupt the system and cause widespread economic hardship throughout the country. But now the HoR believes the GNA, on the advice of Turkey, is violating this arrangement. The NOC estimates that losses from the shutdown have cost Libya about $2 billion so far. This is a time bomb because Libya cannot feed itself and is still seeking to reform its economy and cultural bad habits. Since 2014 government workers have seen their pay or benefits reduced or delayed so that more essential issues (like food imports) could be attended to. The government has also warned people that a lot of Kaddafi era subsidies had to go in order to keep the economy functioning at all. Such a move was very unpopular but was implemented anyway because there was no alternative. Kaddafi provided a lot of stuff at very low prices. Like loaves of bread for a few pennies. Fuel and electricity were also sold far below cost as were airline, bus and train tickets. Another problem was the many people who collected a government paycheck didn’t do any work, or even show up. Changing all these bad habits has proved very difficult. The greed, Islamic terrorism and sense of entitlement that is so widespread in Libya also mean that foreign investors are not interested because Libyans make inefficient and troublesome employees. Libya is no place to create wealth but it is an ideal place to squander it. The basic problem is that Libyans have proved unable to agree on how to handle their oil wealth. In the last five years, an agreement has been worked out and it was one thing the LNA and HoR could agree on. But in the last year, the HoR has accused the GNA of cheating and the cooperation has fallen apart. This is another reason for the popular support the LNA received for its effort to put the GNA out of business for good.

February 19, 2020: In the southeast, across the border in Chad, local troops repelled an effort by Libya based CCMSR Chad rebels seeking to establish themselves in the Tibesti area, where there is lots of illegal gold mining and not much law enforcement. The CCMSR attacked a local army base but the troops got reinforcements and routed the rebels, killing over thirty of them. The survivors fled back into Libya.

February 18, 2020: The GNA canceled UN hosted peace talks because the LNA shelled the Tripoli port area. This artillery fire was aimed at a Turkish cargo ship that had just arrived with weapons and ammunition for GNA and Turkish forces.

February 17, 2020: The GNA leader admitted that Turkey had brought in Syrian mercenaries to bolster the demoralized GNA militia fighters. It was feared that the Turkish mercs were from Syrian Islamic terror groups Turkey tolerates. That was apparently not the case. While Turkey, like the GNA, is tolerant of Islamic militias the Turks prefer to hire secular Syrians as mercenaries. Turkey does regularly support “cooperative” Islamic terrorist groups but does than trust them as mercenaries. The mercs sent to Libya to reinforce the defense of Tripoli. Instead, Turkey consisted of about 2,000 trusted members of its FSA (Free Syrian Army) mercenary force. For several years the FSA has been doing most of the fighting for the Turks in Syria, in return for good pay and eventual Turkish citizenship. Some of these Turkish mercenaries in Libya already received their citizenship, plus about $2,000 a month for serving in Libya plus a large payout to next of kin if they are killed. When foreign journalists managed to interview some of these FSA men, they admitted they were in Libya for the money and assurances by the Turks that the opposition they would face in Libya would be less dangerous than the Kurds they had been fighting in Syria.

February 9, 2020: In Ethiopia, the leaders of Algeria and Egypt met, while attending an African Summit, met to discuss their mutual concerns with Islamic terrorism and the continued fighting in Libya. It was agreed that the two nations would share more intelligence on terrorism but did not agree on how to deal with the Turkish military intervention in Libya. Algeria is on good terms with the Turks, Egypt is not.

February 7, 2020: In Italy (Genoa), port officials seized a cargo ship and found it to be transporting Turkish weapons to Libya.

February 6, 2020: The Turks are seen to be using their Libyan intervention as a key component in a scheme to block Greece from exploiting offshore natural gas fields which, according to international law, Greece is entitled to. The Turks signed a treaty with the LNA in late 2019 in which Libya and Turkey agree to claim and exploit offshore oil and gas discoveries in the waters between Libya and Turkey. Even the UN opposes this deal because it violates numerous treaties that have established rules for how this division of offshore resources is done. The GNA-Turkey deal is similar to the claims China is making in the South China Sea. Greece refuses to negotiate with the Turks over this and is instead appealing to the UN and international tribunals that handle such disputes. The Chinese was tried this way over its South China Sea claims and ignored the ruling that upheld accusations that China was acting illegally. Turkey is no China and does now have the means to enforce its claims and the Greeks (and many Turks) know it.

 

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