With senior officials streaming into Libya, Turkey signals it is there to stay

Ankara hints at its rejection of military withdrawal from western Libya.

Tuesday 04/05/2021
Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu give a joint press conference in the capital Tripoli on May 3, 2021. (AFP)
Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu give a joint press conference in the capital Tripoli on May 3, 2021. (AFP)

TRIPOLI - No top-ranking Turkish official seems to have been left out of the high-level delegation that visited Tripoli to meet Libyan officials Monday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dispatched Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan and Chief of Staff Yasar Guler to Tripoli to inform Libyan officials and regional countries that the Turkish intervention in Libya was not an accident and that Turkey is there to stay.

Cavusoglu’s statements, in response to the call by his Libyan counterpart Najla Al-Manqoush for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, carried hints of Turkey’s rejection of military withdrawal from Libya.

His response lowered the intense speculation that the visiting delegation could be examining the modalities of withdrawing Turkish forces and Syrian mercenaries sent by Ankara to fight alongside the forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) during the military campaign at thwarting the Libyan National Army’s attack on Tripoli.

Manqoush had asked Turkey to cooperate towards ending the presence of foreign forces in the country.

“We call on (Turkey) to take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories,” she said.

Cavusoglu responded by saying that “military cooperation with Libya was carried out at the request of the government of the time.”

He also criticised “those who equate our legal presence … with the foreign mercenary groups that fight in this country for money”.

Cooperation between Turkey and Libya within the framework of a military accord signed in late 2019 “avoided Libya sinking into civil war,” he contended.

“Our support has opened the way to a ceasefire and the installation of a new unified political executive,” he added.

He stressed Turkey’s support “for the Libyan government in fulfilling the demands of the Libyan people,” noting that “consultations were underway for the return of Turkish companies to Libya.”

He continued saying, “We discussed the maritime demarcation agreement in Libya and the next steps that we will take,” and added that his country attaches great importance to preserving Libya’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence and political unity.

He also expressed “pride” in his country’s  presence in Libya.

The preservation of the Libyan border demarcation agreement signed by Turkey with the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj in November 2019 is one of the most crucial challenges facing Turkey in Libya, especially in light of Athens’ efforts to cancel the agreement because of its conflict with Greek interests.

A Libyan government delegation that included 15 ministers, in addition to Chief of Staff Muhammad Al-Haddad, had visited Turkey three weeks ago and signed five agreements covering  a range of fields.

Another challenge to Turkey is the push by Arab Gulf countries to enter the Libyan market via Egyptian economic operators.

A large delegation from the Egyptian Businessmen’s Association will take part in the Arab Investment Forum to be held in Tripoli next September in order to discuss investment opportunities.

The Arab Weekly learned that an active participation from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, is expected during the event in the hope of obtaining a significant share of the investment opportunities in the Libyan market.

Commenting on the visit of Turkish delegations to Egypt and Libya, Turkish Justice and Development Party spokesman Omar Celik said, “Our actions are continuing with Libya and are passing through a delicate stage. As for our issues with Egypt, we are working on forming new mechanisms to discuss them.”

Egypt considers the withdrawal of Syrian mercenaries from western Libya a condition for the normalisation of relations with Turkey.

Observers do not rule out that Turkey, in an attempt to appease Egypt, might evacuate the Syrian mercenaries while keeping Turkish forces in one of the military bases in western Libya, most likely Al-Wattiyah military base.

Turkish Defence Minister met, Monday, Mohammed Al-Haddad, the Libyan Chief of Staff, in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Akar and the Turkish Chief of Staff visited the Turkish Task Force Command in Libya.

Observers rule out a complete Turkish military withdrawal from Libya.

“Turkish forces will not leave Libya, even though the ceasefire agreement calls for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters,” said Aya Burwila, a senior adviser to the Research Institute for European and American Studies..

Burwila called for an international coalition to contain Turkey and prevent the Erdogan government’s continued encroachment on decisions affecting the future of the Libyan state.

She emphasised that Turkey, its proxies and Islamist forces in war-torn Libya will do their utmost to ensure that the presidential and legislative elections in the country do not take place as scheduled.

“The Turks do not want elections in Libya because they know that the Islamists do not have a future in Libya,” the Ahval website quoted Burawela as saying in a radio interview.

For its part, the Libyan government is trying to convince Ankara of the need to withdraw the Syrian mercenaries, as previously expressed by Najla Al-Manqoush, in the hope that the authorities in the eastern region would take a similar step that would lead to the exit of Russian Wagner mercenaries from the bases in the east and south of the country.

Government of National Unity premier Abdulhamid al-Dbeibeh, had previously sent letters to the Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Parliament) Aguila Saleh, regarding the presence of the Wagner mercenaries. According to many media reports, the LNA has been accused in the past of receiving Wagner’s help.

In statements relayed by the local TV channel “February” , Dbeibeh warned of “parties seeking to re-ignite war in the country” .

He  explained in the interview that he was prevented from landing at Sirte airport because of mercenaries.