Sarraj’s military talks in Istanbul raise concerns about Turkey’s role

Turkish moves suggest attempts to establish a favourable military situation on the ground.
Wednesday 21/10/2020
Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj meets in Istanbul with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogan, October 4. (AFP)
Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj meets in Istanbul with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogan, October 4. (AFP)

TUNIS – The mysterious and unannounced visit of the head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj to Turkey, which has also summoned in haste the Chief of Staff of the GNA forces, Major General Muhammad al-Haddad, raised a number of concerns in eastern Libya.

The questions add to strong apprehensions regarding Turkish efforts to break the existing balance equation at the Sirte-Jufra line.

The scope of these concerns expanded following the announcement of the Sirte-Jufra security and protection operations room, affiliated with the Misrata militias, to close the roads south of Abu Qurain and Al-Washka towards Al-Jufra, amid persistent warnings from the Libyan army that Turkey is preparing the militias loyal to it, supported by its Syrian mercenaries, to launch a major military attack on Sirte to bring about a change in the current power equation.

Libyan sources said, quoting people close to the Presidential Council, that Sarraj suddenly arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, on an unannounced visit, where he met with Major General Ibrahim Al Shaqaf, the former deputy head of the Presidential Council’s internal security service.

The sources revealed that this meeting, whose deliberations were shrouded in total secrecy, took place at the Raffles Hotel in Istanbul, where Sarraj resides during this visit, which coincided with the no less sudden arrival in Ankara of the Chief of Staff of the GNA Forces, Muhammad al-Haddad. Sarraj met in these talks with the Turkish Minister of Defence, Hulusi Akar, in the presence of the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, Yasar Güler.

The Turkish Ministry of Defence said in a press statement that during this meeting, “views were exchanged on the latest developments in Libya,” as Akar confirmed that Turkey “will continue training and consulting activities in the military and security fields in Libya, within the framework of the agreement with the Government of National Accord.”

However, this statement, which included ambiguous hints at Ottoman ambitions, including Akar’s statement that “the bonds of friendship and brotherhood between the two countries go back more than 500 years,” did not dispel the doubts surrounding it, but rather deepened them even further among Libyan military and political circles that do not hide their apprehension of every step Turkey takes towards Libya.

Libyan parliamentarian, Ziad Daghim, said, in a phone conversation with The Arab Weekly, that these moves, which seem inseparable from the ongoing multiple political moves to settle the Libyan crisis and their ramifications, are “a public expression of rejection of the political track, and of the lack of a serious desire to participate in it.”

These Turkish moves coincided with the current dominance of the security and military aspects over political track, as reflected in last week’s events in relation to the inter-Libyan military meetings that continued on Tuesday in Geneva, within the framework of the 5 + 5 Joint Military Committee, in the presence of the Acting Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams.

Analysts, however, believe that a correct reading of the course of the Turkish moves confirms the existence of a plan to break the existing military balance equations, or bypass them and impose another equation to bring about a change in the balance of power, because it is not possible to imagine any political agreement that can be implemented and maintained without basing it first on reality on the ground.

Rafaa Tabib, a Tunisian expert in Libyan affairs, considered that the Turkish presidency’s reading of the developments of the security and military dialogue held in Cairo and Geneva would favour the scenario of unifying the army and extending its control over Ankara’s areas of influence in Libya.

He told The Arab Weekly that on the basis of this reading, “it becomes better for the Turks to re-shuffle the cards on the ground and change the elements of the geostrategic equation by withdrawing the power-sharing agreement through a strike on the city of Sirte because of its symbolism and centrality in the inter-Libyan consensus.”

He pointed out that “credible news and field witnesses confirmed the mobilisation of thousands of mercenaries and members of the private security company, Sadat, which is close to the Turkish Presidency, in the Al-Sadada area and west of Misrata in general, confirming that the attack plan on the city of Sirte, especially Al-Qardabiya air base, is ready and awaiting orders to proceed with it.”

Tabib also stressed that the conference of the Libyan tribes and cities held in the city of Sirte had laid the foundations for the convergence of the forces calling for Libya’s independence and sovereignty, a position strongly supported by Algeria, Tunisia and to a lesser extent Egypt, but this position “does not find any support from Turkey, which is working to confuse the political track until a solution is reformulated, in a repeat of the Skhirat Agreement and the establishment of a quota system that safeguards Ankara’s interests.”

Within the context of these developments, the Libyan army spokesman, Major General Ahmed al-Mismari, warned that Turkey, through its militias in Tripoli, was preparing for a military attack, he described as major, on Sirte.

He pointed out in a press statement that, during the past two days, the Libyan army has monitored the landing of huge aircrafts loaded with heavy weapons at Al-Watiya base and at Misrata and Mitiga airports, and the arrival of new mercenaries trained in Turkey on new weapons technologies, in conjunction with a visit by military advisors to Libya.

Mismari considered that, through these moves, Turkey is seeking “by all means to thwart the Libyan dialogue, for fear of reaching a political solution that leads to its (Turkey’s) complete removal from Libya, where it is working to put pitfalls and obstacles, in order to keep Fayez al-Sarraj in his position despite his pledge to resign at the end of this month.”