Warlord Khalifa Haftar’s militias have been hit by stinging defeats in the country’s west after the collapse of their siege of Tripoli.
In Libya, North Africa, a renegade general’s militias have not let the Covid-19 pandemic stop their assaults against the UN-recognised government based in Tripoli.
Despite a January ceasefire reached by both sides through the mediation of European powers and Turkey in Berlin, Haftar's violations led to its early collapse.
As of April, however, his forces began facing difficulties in their operations and with the onset of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, Haftar declared a unilateral ceasefire to seemingly acquire time.
But this time, the GNA rejected Haftar’s ceasefire offer, viewing the warlord both as an untrustworthy leader who has not honoured his previous commitments and as someone who is now on the back foot.
Since the beginning of the civil war, Libya has had two rival powers - the GNA led by Fayez al Sarraj, based in Tripoli, the country’s capital in the west, and another led by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is based in Benghazi in the east.
Since April, GNA forces backed by Turkey have recaptured a number of cities between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, putting the LNA in a precarious position for its western operations.
Major General Usama Goueili, the top commander of the GNA forces, announced today that Haftar’s forces have been expelled from al Watiya airbase, headquarters of the LNA’s western operations, being the largest airbase across Western Libya.
Tarhuna, a Haftar stronghold, has also been under siege by GNA forces for a while. If Tarhuna also falls into the hands of the pro-Tripoli alliance, the warlord will lose his hold over central and western Libya.
Haftar alliance in alarm
Haftar’s recent troubles have worried some of his allies, sparking a joint foreign ministry declaration last week from the Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA), Egypt, France, Greece and the United Arab Emirates.
While Turkey, Italy and Qatar support the internationally-recognised GNA, France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Greece, GCA, Egypt and Russia back Haftar.
A resulting statement appears to target Turkey more than addressing any pressing issues, particularly, continuing ceasefire violations committed by LNA elements.
“The Ministers strongly condemned Turkey’s military interference in Libya, and urged Turkey to fully respect the UN arms embargo, and to stop the influx of foreign fighters from Syria to Libya. These developments constitute a threat to the stability of Libya’s neighbours in Africa as well as in Europe,” the joint statement said.
The document also carries several contradictions.
While Turkey helps the internationally-recognised Tripoli government, the signatories of the joint statement are supporting an illegal alliance of militias, which continues to attack civilians.
In terms of foreign fighters, it is Haftar’s LNA, not the GNA, that has been scrutinised repeatedly as the warlord employs thousands of mercenaries from various African countries.
Moscow’s notorious Wagner Group also provides Russian mercenaries in the service of the warlord.
But the statement, which aims to single out Turkey for what’s going on in Libya, doesn’t touch upon these issues.
“The joint declaration of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Greece, GCA, France and the UAE on the eastern Mediterranean and Libya is a case in point of the hypocrisy of a group of countries who are seeking regional chaos and instability,” said a Turkish foreign ministry statement immediately after the joint statement was issued.
Ankara also drew attention to the fact that it also goes against “the democratic aspirations of the peoples” at the expense of “the callous aggression of putschist dictators.”
As Haftar’s militants take heavy losses, his allies “have fallen into a delirium, as their agendas are being disrupted by Turkey,” the Turkish statement emphasised.
Ankara also slammed the involvement of the UAE, a country with no coast on the Mediterranean, in the Libyan conflict.
“As for the UAE, which has no connection whatsoever to the Eastern Mediterranean, it is no other than the animosity towards Turkey that unites it with the other countries. The track record of this country both against Turkey and Libya is self-evident,” the statement said.
It is of note that Israel, a country who has been on the side of the countries seemingly against Turkey, and has certainly taken that position in the past during Eastern Mediterranean gas disputes, was conspicuous in its absence in the signing of the anti-Turkey declaration.
Some suggested that it signalled a possible rapprochement between Ankara and Tel Aviv.