Turkey will consider Haftar’s force a ‘legitimate target’ if attacked in Libya

(The article has been updated with Egyptian delegation visit to Tripoli)

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said rebel General Khalifa Haftar and his forces will be considered legitimate targets if they attack Turkish elements situated in Libya, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.

Akar made an official visit to Tripoli on Saturday to meet with officials from the internationally recognised Government of National Accord following Haftar’s threat to drive out Turkish armed forces from Libya if they did not pull out peacefully.

"This war criminal, the murderer Haftar and his supporters should know that in any attempt to attack the Turkish elements, the murderous Haftar elements will be seen as legitimate targets everywhere,” Akar told Libya-based Turkish military officials in an address late on Saturday, according to Anadolu. “They will find no place to escape to after making such a move.”

Turkey supports the Tripoli-based GNA in its conflict with the eastern opposition forces led by Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, among other countries. GNA forces, backed by Turkish military assistance, had repelled Haftar’s 14-month-long offensive to capture Tripoli, stabilising frontlines since July.

A delegation from Egypt, which in June threatened military intervention if the GNA and Turkey attacked strategic positions on the frontline, arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to hold meetings with GNA officials, Libya Review reported on Sunday. The delegation includes deputies of the Defence Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the deputy intelligence chief, it said.

The visit was the first of its kind since 2014 by Egyptian officials to Tripoli, Libya Review said.

The GNA and LNA signed a United Nations-brokered ceasefire deal In October, which envisions all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libyan soil within a three-month period and a political roadmap leading to national elections in December 2021. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the settlement was not a ceasefire at the “highest echelons” and questioned “putschist” Haftar’s credibility in the truce talks.

During his visit, Akar met with high-ranking GNA officials, including Defence Minister Salah Eddine al-Namrush, Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga and head of the Libyan High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri, to discuss political developments and reiterate continued security cooperation between the GNA and Turkey, the Libyan Observer reported on Saturday.

Bashaga praised Turkey’s role in helping the GNA push the LNA back and its contribution "in building the new Libya" away from regionalism, tribalism, and the one-man rule, the Libyan Observer said.

"Libya strives to work with Turkey, according to the principles of mutual respect and in areas of shared interest," Bashaga said.

Namrush said that new training centres were set to open to further build on Turkey's training mission in Libya, according to Libyan Review.