JEDDAH: Fears of a new military confrontation in Libya grew on Monday after Turkey issued a direct threat to the forces of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey is the main backer of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is fighting to oust, backed by Russia, the UAE, and Egypt.
On a surprise visit to Turkish troops in Tripoli on Sunday, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned: “This war criminal, thug Haftar and his backers should know that in the event of any attempt to attack Turkish forces, the killer Haftar’s forces will be viewed as legitimate targets everywhere.”
The visit came two days after Haftar urged his fighters to drive Turkish forces out of Libya. There would be “no peace in the presence of a colonizer on our land,” he said.
Akar is expected to launch military cooperation projects between Tripoli and Ankara. Last week, the Turkish parliament adopted a motion extending the deployment of forces in Libya by 18 months.
“The latest statement is a general vague threat following an initial threat from Haftar to Turkish forces,” Oded Berkowitz, a security analyst, told Arab News.
“It is verbal saber-rattling … that is a little bit more aggressive than usual, as often these do not include any direct threats to the LNA.”
Kyle Orton, a UK-based researcher on Middle East policies, said there was little reason to doubt that Haftar intended to try again to take control of all of Libya. “But it seems unlikely that effort will occur in the immediate term given the setbacks inflicted earlier this year by Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Following a cease-fire agreement signed in October, the GNA and LNA are expected to conduct a UN-sponsored political dialogue, setting the stage for elections
next year to end Libya’s long-running conflict.
Turkey sent military advisers, advanced drones, and thousands of Syrian mercenaries to the GNA, and established a large military base in Al-Watiya region on Libya’s border with Tunisia.
The base has long been criticized for its potential to provide military backup for Turkey’s controversial oil and gas drilling operations in the eastern Mediterranean.