A major development in the Eastern Mediterranean on Friday distracted international relations experts from the COVID-19 pandemic and turned all eyes to the situation in Libya. A fleet of Turkish jets, including tanker aircraft, took off from military airbases in Konya and Incirlik en route to the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya. According to flight trackers, a Turkish tanker flew along Libya’s Mediterranean coast – raising questions about the possibility of an imminent operation against warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense issued a statement hours later to announce that the Turkish Armed Forces has conducted an unannounced aerial and naval exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean. If so, why was a tanker aircraft just off the Libyan shore?
There is significant military activity in Libya. Backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, France and Egypt, Haftar has been attempting a slow military coup. His forces kept advancing until they were on the brink of capturing the Libyan capital, Tripoli. At that point, last November, the country’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) requested assistance from Turkey.
Since then, GNA has been quite effective against Haftar’s forces. With Turkey’s help, the Libyan government increased its airpower, whose lack had played into the coup plotter’s hand. According to sources, Turkey, whose armed drone fleet destroyed Bashar Assad’s air defense system in Syria, offers the same kind of assistance to the Libyans.
Last week, Haftar forces were forced to withdraw from the city of Sabratah, located to the west of Tripoli, and the town of Sorman to the south. The day after Turkey’s military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Libyan government took another strategically important step by launching a counteroffensive to capture Tarhunah, where Haftar operations center coordinates attacks against Tripoli. Egyptian, Emirati and Russian military advisors, too, guide Haftar’s forces from that town, 65 kilometers away from the Libyan capital.
The first day of Operation Peace Storm was quite productive for Libya’s legitimate government, as Libyan forces destroyed dozens of armed vehicles and captured some 150 militias. Among the targeted armored carriers were Emirati vehicles.
As Libya’s legitimate government gains the upper hand on the ground, Haftar’s foreign sponsors grow increasingly concerned. Sources say that the UAE has pledged additional financial support to Haftar. Russia reportedly recruited several hundred former members of the Syrian opposition, who agreed to fight alongside the Libyan warlord – for $1,000 each.
The most recent developments in Libya could have a profound impact on the country’s future. If Khalifa Haftar loses Tarhunah, his operation center, it could be the beginning of the end for the warlord, who currently enjoys massive foreign backing.