Libya is preparing for a major escalation of the war, which threatens to cause a new influx of asylum seekers and refugees to Europe. Khalifa Haftar’s rebel army, which is trying to capture the capital, is about to launch air strikes against Turkish targets. Ankara supports the internationally recognized (sort of) government (kind of) in Tripoli.
The dragging struggle in Libya appears to be tipping for the first time in a long time in favor of Prime Minister Sarraj’s internationally recognized government. With the support of Turkey, the government forces are conquering territory near the capital Tripoli, in the northwest of the country, where victory by General Haftar’s militias previously seemed a matter of time.
The power struggle for Libya has been going on since 2011, when dictator Gaddafi was ousted. Since then, groups in Libya, increasingly with support from abroad, have been fighting for power. The two main power blocks trying to maintain or seize authority in the country are the government of Prime Minister Sarraj and General Haftar.
“We see that Sarraj’s troops have recaptured a lot of territory in recent days,” said correspondent Daisy Mohr. “Yesterday, Haftar’s troops were driven out of Alasaba, a strategic town near the capital. On Monday, the militias of Sarraj captured a strategically located air base, a very important place for both parties.”
Turkish weapons and mercenaries on site
The reconquests are a major setback for Haftar, who seemed to defeat the government with support from Russia and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
“His troops had been standing at the gates of the capital Tripoli for a while. He started his dream of conquering the capital over a year ago, but it now seems further away than before.”
Decisive for the recent conquests is Turkey, which has supported Sarraj since January. Thousands of weapons, but also mercenaries, are being shipped from Turkey to Libya. There are reports about Syrian rebels who flew from Syrian opposition territory through Turkey to Libya to fight on the side of Sarraj.
Despite an arms embargo, there is an enormous influx of weapons and mercenaries on both sides. The United Nations is also very concerned about this. UN Special Envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, fears that the fight will only intensify before a political process may start again.
Still, it’s too early to conclude that Turkey has now settled the fight in Sarraj’s favor. It is indeed a tilt, a new balance, but we will have to see what General Haftar’s reaction will be. There are rumors of Russian fighter planes recently arriving in Libya to assist Haftar.
According to Mohr, the current situation is potentially very dangerous.
“If Russia intervenes even more directly, it increases the chance of a Russian-Turkish confrontation in Libya. Just like in Syria, the two countries are both on the other side. Libya is important for all international players, especially of course because of the oil- and gas fields, so the end doesn’t seem to be in sight yet.”