Turkey's engagement in Libya moves up a notch
The past three weeks were very important in terms of Turkey’s political and military engagement in Libya. It started with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s visit to Turkey on June 12, when he held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other Turkish officials.
The visit fostered a mutual understanding to further improve the Ankara-Tripoli relationship in almost all fields, including security cooperation, the economy, investments and more. On June 17, a comprehensive delegation led by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu that included Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head
Hakan Fidan and presidential spokesman and chief foreign policy adviser İbrahim Kalın was deployed to Libya.
The meeting paved the way for a detailed deliberation on how the agreements reached by Erdoğan and al-Sarraj could be realized with a concrete road map. As stated by Çavuşoğlu after the visit, the two governments discussed ways to expand the scope of their existing security and military cooperation, foster suitable conditions to permit Turkish companies to return to Libya, allow Turkish Petroleum to actively penetrate the Libyan oil business on land and at sea and reconstruct the war-torn country.
Long-term and complicated engagement in Libya, where the armed conflict between al-Sarraj’s government and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s troops is continuing, obliges Turkey to increase its military visibility and deterrence, as Haftar’s supporters have also intensified their military deployment and activity in the theater.
Pro-GNA forces have approached the strategically important town of Sirte with plans to advance toward the Oil Crescent, where the oil-rich country’s main oil terminals are situated. Taking control of these terminals back from Haftar could be a turning point in the conflict. That’s why Egypt has described Sirte as a red line, while Russia has reportedly deployed around two dozen aircraft to al-Jufra base to oppose the GNA’s plans.
On June 30, Navy Commander Adm. Adnan Özbal paid a snap visit to Tripoli days before Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler went to Libya and spent a night on board a Turkish warship in the Mediterranean. The results of these visits will become clear in the near future, as Akar vowed once again that Turkey will never abandon its Libyan brothers.
But what makes Akar’s visit important is that it comes just a day after Erdoğan’s one-day trip to Qatar for talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim. In a statement on July 3, Erdoğan said their talks were dominated by the Libyan conflict, and he said Turkey would move to another phase in its engagement in Libya and that the visits by the Navy commander and the defense minister were part of a plan.
Erdoğan’s talks with Tamim could be interpreted as the beginning of Doha’s more active integration with the Turkish efforts in the field as the efforts to protect and strengthen the GNA require constant financial and political support.
Converting al-Watiyye airport into a permanent airbase for the use of GNA forces and reinforcing the government’s naval presence and land forces are seen as important steps in a bid to shield Tripoli from future attacks by Haftar and his supporters.
Reports that al-Watiyye was attacked by an unknown aircraft just a day after Akar’s departure from Libya, followed by a counterattack on al-Jufra airbase, are signals that the conflict is likely to escalate further.
It’s difficult to imagine that the warring parties will compromise on a political road map and a lasting ceasefire in this very critical phase of the conflict.