Foreign actors had significant involvement in the Libyan crisis and the latest round of the war to capture capital Tripoli, but Turkey emerged as the winner, and its tactics will likely set a precedent for others in the future, according to research by the Middle East Institute.
Noting that the war for the capital Tripoli was mainly fought aerially and managed by foreign actors, the foreign policy paper titled “Turning the Tide: How Turkey Won the War for Tripoli” by Jason Pack and Wolfgang Pusztai argues that the war was “essentially won by the Turks.”
In January, Turkey began deploying soldiers to Libya after Parliament approved a motion responding to Libya’s call for Turkish troops.
Libya and Turkey signed agreements in November outlining cooperation in terms of security and maritime affairs, angering Mediterranean countries, including Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration. The diplomatic maneuver prevents the Greeks and Greek Cypriots from unilaterally exploiting energy resources in the region.
Libya's internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) made a formal request for "air, ground and sea" support from the Turkish military to help fend off an offensive by forces loyal to putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who was attempting to take control of the capital, Tripoli. Turkey supports the GNA, which is also backed by the United Nations, against Haftar's militia and mercenaries.
Pack said he opposes referring to the Libyan war as a proxy war, saying it was a cross-border war and that we could see wars being conducted in this manner in the future.
He claims the media attaching too much importance to foreign mercenaries is “deceptive,” arguing, “all meaningful ground engagements in which territory was lost or gained were fought by Libyans.”
According to the study, Haftar’s aerial dominance was mainly based on Russian fighter jets, helicopters and skilled United Arab Emirates (UAE) drone assistance in 2019. Back then, the GNA had about 24 Turkish-made drones and certain anti-aircraft weapons, which were not equipt to respond to Haftar’s aerial dominance, while the GNA’s Western supporters, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S., refused to provide assistance, even though they were politically and militarily able to do so.
Referring to the January 2020 cease-fire agreement led by Turkey and Russia as a “turning point,” the study says Haftar embarrassed his patron Russian President Vladimir Putin by not signing the deal and leaving Moscow. Haftar’s aerial dominance soon disappeared after the Turkish Air Force transported the HAWK XXI medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery to Misrata airport, followed by a second battery.
“Overall, the Egyptians and Emiratis possessed the ability to swing the battle in favor of the LNA (Libyan National Army), if they were willing to fully commit their joint financial and professional military resources. Yet, they decided not to strike the newly arrived Turkish air defense systems,” the study said.
The authors also argued that the Tripoli war was a “new kind of military conflict” and that Turkey’s decisive deployment of drones and its anti-aircraft capabilities will likely be studied and imitated by other countries.