Turkey’s involvement in Libyan conflict stirring fear of military escalation - analysis

A possible move by Turkey to increase its military backing for the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), thereby causing Egypt to make a move, is fuelling fears of a military escalation in the war-torn country, wrote editor-in-chief of the Libya Herald, Michel Cousins, in the Arab Weekly.

Libya has been in political turmoil since 2011, when former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed after over 40 years in power.

The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by commander Khalifa Haftar, controls much of the east and south of the North African country, and in April launched an offensive that threatened to capture the Libyan capital city from the GNA.

Ankara backs the internationally recognised Islamist-rooted GNA government in Tripoli, while the LNA is supported by Turkey’s regional rivals Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The LNA accuses Turkey of funding and arming Islamist factions in Libya fighting on the side of the GNA.  The LNA offensive against Tripoli, which began on April 4, has created an unmistakable civil war in Libya, Cousins wrote, stressing that the conflict is drawing in outside involvement.

The Libya Herald editor-in-chief underlined that Turkey’s suspected intervention in support of the GNA had been growing in scope with Ankara granting arms and equipment to the GNA - including unmanned combat aerial vehicles - in violation of the international arms embargo. 

“Turkey has major economic interests in Libya. It is owed $23 billion in debts and unfinished contracts and is facing being excluded from future Libyan business,’’ Cousins wrote, adding that Turkey cannot afford to be barred from a future Libyan market if LNA Commander Haftar wins and will do everything to prevent that from happening.

Military escalation will become inevitable as Turkey increases its military backing for the GNA, he wrote.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday reiterated Ankara’s support for the GNA in Tripoli during a meeting with GNA head Fayez al-Sarra in Istanbul. 

Erdoğan has called Haftar “nothing but a pirate,” and urged an end to the attacks of the LNA.