We’ve noted before that Libya’s new civil war has increasingly come out in the open as in reality an international proxy war, with even the White House in the past months “switching” support from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli to the renegade General Khalifa Haftar, whose LNA forces have for months laid siege to the capital in an attempt to wrest the country from GNA authority.
And to nobody’s surprise, advanced American-made anti-tank missiles believed supplied by the UAE have recently been found among Haftar’s weapons stockpiles. All of this makes Gen. Haftar’s latest “declaration of war” on Turkey more interesting. Over the weekend the LNA threatened to shoot down Turkish airplanes found in Libyan air space and to destroy Turkish ships off the Libyan coast, in response to Turkish military support to GNA forces in Tripoli, which resulted in a significant setback for pro-Haftar militants.
Haftar’s rebel force had claimed Libya is “under Turkish invasion” and that it would act against any Turkish threat, including Turkish flagged vessels found in Libyan territorial waters.
Over the weekend Turkey threatened to attack Haftar’s forces in eastern Libya directly as a “legitimate target” if the LNA failed to release six Turkish citizens under its detention. Haftar had previously declared intent to detain all Turkish nationals in Libya, but walked back the threat while additionally releasing the six Turkish hostages on Monday.
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Ankara’s threat of attack appeared to have worked, according to Al Jazeera: “The spokesman of Haftar’s forces, Colonel Ahmed Masmari, earlier said they were detaining all Turkish nationals in Libya. But last night [Sunday], he retreated saying he does not have any knowledge of the detention of the Turkish nationals.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry has confirmed the Turkish nationals’ release on Monday.
However, Haftar has yet to walk back LNA statements declaring Turkey “an enemy of the state”. Having such a powerful and military involved enemy as Erdogan’s Turkey could permanently stall his attempts to take all of Libya.
Gen. Haftar — who solidified control of Eastern Libya over the past two years and swept through the south early this year, has sought to capture Tripoli with the support of countries like the UAE and France, but is strongly opposed by Turkey and most European countries. He holds a huge portion of the country as well as oil production.
Haftar has long been described by many analysts as “the CIA’s man in Libya” — given he spent a couple decades living in exile a mere few minutes from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia during Gaddafi’s rule.
He was inserted back onto the Libyan battlefield before Gaddafi’s eventual capture and field execution at the hands of NATO supported Islamist fighters in 2011.
It was only months ago that President Trump for the first time voiced public support to Haftar’s forces. The president’s April comments signaled a complete reversal of US policy, given that up to that point the US had officially backed the GNA.
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