Turkey reiterated on Thursday that militias loyal to putschist Khalifa Haftar in Libya would be considered legitimate targets if Turkish forces and interests are endangered, threatening “heavy consequences.”
Citing the militia's air force chief Saqr al-Jaroushi, the U.S. news outlet Bloomberg said Thursday that Haftar, the leader of illegal armed forces in the eastern portion of the country, is set to launch "the largest aerial campaign in Libyan history in the coming hours."
“All Turkish positions and interests in all cities are legitimate targets for our air force jets,” he continued.
Additionally, Russia delivered at least six Soviet-made MiG-29s and two Sukhoi 24 warplanes from its base in Syria's Hmeimim to Haftar, Libya’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told Bloomberg.
“This statement is a reflection of the delirium of losses the forces loyal to Haftar have experienced on the ground recently and is the clearest indicator that the putschist Haftar and his backers aim to escalate the conflict in Libya,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated.
“Hereby, we once again reiterate that serious consequences will follow and that putschist Haftar forces will be considered legitimate targets if Turkish interests are attacked in Libya,” the statement added.
Turkey previously warned Haftar’s forces when areas near its embassy in the capital Tripoli were shelled this month.
“It is striking that the statement, cited in a foreign news outlet, indicates that illegitimate militia loyal to putschist Haftar would target Turkish interests with air elements and comes after new fighter jets are positioned in eastern Libya with foreign support,” it said.
On the other side, speaking to U.S. news outlet Bloomberg, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın similarly stated that Turkey will respond to any Haftar attack on its interests and will never “bow” to his threats.
“Turkey has openly displayed its will to bring an end to instability in Libya that fuels terrorism, causes civilian casualties as well as widespread damage to the country’s economy," Kalın said.
Haftar's threats came after his forces experienced heavy losses in recent weeks, including a crucial air base used to launch operations. The Government of National Accord's (GNA) retaking of the Al-Watiya air base is the biggest setback for Haftar since launching a renewed offensive on Tripoli. Haftar’s forces took control of Al-Watiya in 2014 and had been using the air base as the command center for their operations in the west.
Following the ousting of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya's legitimate government was founded in 2015 under a U.N.-led political deal. In the past few weeks, the GNA has made significant gains against forces loyal to Haftar, supported by France, Russia, the UAE and Egypt, while some provinces announced their support for the official government after months of bombing and shelling by Haftar on civilians, hospitals and schools.