Libyan Civil War: Turkish Intervention

The aim of this Grey Dynamics African Intelligence report is to analyse Turkish intervention in the Libyan Civil War. This assessment utilises open-source intelligence and data visualisation tools to provide consumers a good understanding of the intervention. The intelligence cut-off date for this report is the 30thJune 2020.

Key Judgments 

KJ-1. It is highly likely that Turkish intervention has positively impacted the Government of National Accord (GNA) war against the Libyan National Army (LNA), saving the GNA from defeat.

KJ-2. Turkey’s strategic priority is highly likely to expand intervention in Libya to achieve economic, political, and security goals.

KJ-3. It is likely that the GNA will carry out an offensive in Sirte, with a realistic probability of success affected by ground and air reinforcements from Russia to the LNA. 

KJ-4. It is highly unlikely that Turkey will withdraw support for the UN-backed GNA.

Background 

The Second Libyan Civil War is ongoing since 2014, and at present is waged between the UN-backed GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj against the LNA led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The Tobruk House of Representatives elected administration appointed Haftar to lead the LNA launched an assault to overthrow the GNA administration in April 2019, and had made substantial territorial gains, almost claiming Tripoli until Turkish intervention arguably delayed and reversed the balance of power. Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and France support the LNA while Turkey, Qatar, and to a much lesser extent Italy support the GNA. Turkey and the GNA have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which established the Turkish intervention to support the GNA. It is unlikely that the GNA and LNA will reach an agreement within the next 0-6 months, and LNA more likely to make gains, but with no definitive winner. 

Turkish Intervention Analysis

Methodology 

It is certain that Turkey has been providing military assistance to the GNA and this is highly likely to continue. This is provided through military advisors, air reconnaissance and surveillance, armoured vehicles, small arms, explosives, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Bayraktar TB2 and to a lesser extent, satellite linked ANKA-S drones are used to engage and neutralise LNA ground targets, disrupting supply lines, and limiting the capability of forward operating bases. This was further bolstered by the arrival of MIM-23 PIP3 Model Hawk missiles, a medium-range surface-to-air missile with effective mobility and semi-active radar homing guidance systems. The Turkish intervention also supplied the GNA with air defence systems, which protect the Tripoli Mitiga airport, a key operating base from the capital and strategically important. In addition to this, mercenaries of at least 2,000 fighters have been supplied via Turkey’s private military contractor SADAT, as well as 100 military advisors. This was as of April 30th, since January, which means it is likely that these numbers have since been reinforced, with reports of approximately 4,000 fighters by the end of May. Turkey had been covertly supplying the GNA with armoured personnel carriers since April 2019. A January MoU ‘legitimised’ the support and has seen open material and human support to keep the GNA in power. Turkish Frigates and supply vessels have also been spotted close to Tripoli. This is important as it not only reaffirms the sovereignty of GNA by using the shoreline, it provides key logistical support by sea. This is during a UN arms embargo on Libya, which is poorly enforced but has led to increased French/Turkish tensions. 

Intervention Impact

It is highly likely that Turkish intervention has positively impacted the GNA war against the LNA, and a realistic possibility that this saved the GNA from defeat. If we compare (Figure 1 above) with (Figure 2 below), [1] [2] the January date of Turkish support and subsequent territorial gains by the GNA against lost ground provide an illustration to support this as of June 9th. The GNA have regained control of Tripoli and advancing towards Sirte, which is a key strategic objective in the civil war due to oil pipelines and naval logistical access[3] [4] . The relatively desert terrain of Libya makes it ideal conditions for drone warfare. Which combined with missiles, mitigated the Chinese-made Wing Loong drones used by the LNA, notably decisive in the battle for Tripoli, which Haftar has waged since April 2019. With the arrival of drones, Hawk missiles, and air defence systems, this freed the Tripoli Mitiga Airport for a counter-offensive, leading to GNA seizing coastal towns of Surman, Sabratah, Al-Ajayat, and Al-Assah, culminating in the retaking of the Al-Waitya Air Base on 18th May 2020, which was Haftar’s main point of operations. The Pantsir S-1 air defence units were made null by sophisticated Turkish jamming gear, followed by Bayraktar drone strikes. The intervention shifted the tide of the battle on multiple occasions.

Turkish Goals in Intervention

Political

Increasing and securing Turkey’s sphere of influence in North Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea is likely one of the political goals in intervention. Turkey had close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which since its removal have left Turkey at odds with Egypt. The GNA is supported by the Brotherhood supported Justice and Construction Party in Libya, which is a close resemblance of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Ottoman-era ties with Libya raise a narrative of a ‘Vatan’ (Homeland) community which Turkey argues it must protect. This is also extended to ‘Mavi Vatan’ (Blue Homeland), which Turkey includes in a narrative to push for an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) supported by the GNA in the Mediterranean Sea seen in below (Figure 3). The GNA is the only supporter of this, against Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon. Turkey uses this to deny drilling exploration in the disputed zone. The Eastern Mediterranean Forum left Turkey out of discussions, which it now aggressively is defending to deny a natural gas pipeline through Crete to Greece and Italy. Turkey is seeking to secure its sphere of influence, and the support for the GNA supports this move. Qatar and Turkey have increasingly been at odds with the UAE, which backs the LNA, so any effort to reduce their influence in the region is a positive for Turkish foreign policy. The AKP is also losing political power at home, with six major cities lost, a political victory is needed as Erdogan seeks an early 2021 election to secure power. 

Libyan Civil War: Turkish Intervention, Turkey-Libya Agreed EEZ

Security

Turkey is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, at odds with UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Israel, and Iran. UAE and Saudi Arabia are politically inclined against the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist model, which is backed by Turkey, the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 replaced the Brotherhood, and further isolated Anakara. Turkey is the main backer for the opposition in Syria, which goes against the Iranian-backed regime. Israeli relations soured significantly following public spats over Palestinian disputes and Kurdish independence, however in this instance Israel has a realistic probability of improving relations due to a common enemy against the Iranian sphere of influence. For security purposes the intervention will likely be detrimental to reducing tensions with neighbours, nonetheless Turkey is seeking to aggressively boost its sphere of influence. This means that a pro-Turkey government in Libya will benefit its regional power dynamic, and an ideal outcome for Ankara would establish a regional partner that would boost Turkish security. Another anti-Turkey government in Libya would only further isolate Ankara, which indicates why Turkey has been aggressive in its intervention to keep the GNA afloat. 

Economic

Turkey is highly likely to benefit from keeping the GNA in power, which it depends on for Turkish-Libyan economic cooperation. Turkey’s independent Industrialist and Businessmen Association (MÜSİAD) announced intentions to boost exports to Libya by over 500%, reaching $10 billion compared to $1.49 billion in 2018. Turkey has billions invested in Gaddafi era construction contracts, the LNA have already expressed the intention to nullify the contracts, which can be a key economic influence for Turkish intervention. The GNA is Turkey’s only hope to recoup lost investment in the contracts, with discussions for repayments taking place rather than construction projects commencing. The central bank leader has met with President Erdogan, which is unusual for a state leader to meet with a foreign central bank, indicating possible payments for gold reserves which Turkey needs at a time when their Lira is plummeting. 

Turkish Future in Libya

GNA Victory

Turkey will highly likely boost cooperation with Libya in the event of a GNA victory, which it has been the key supporter. Turkey is unlikely to withdraw support during GNA gains and likely to attempt to secure current military gains. The next offensive is likely to be in Sirte. The key oil lifeline of Libya. There is a realistic possibility that GNA may be able to take Sirte, however there is likely to be no definitive winner in the civil war in the next 0-6 months. According to US AFRICOM, at least 14 Russian-made MiG-29 and Su-24 warplanes alongside Pantsir air defence systems and Russian Wagner Group mercenaries have been deployed to al-Jufra. It is likely that the UAE, not Russia, supplied the Pantsir system, which is supported by both the cost of the system ($13 million), and credible reporting. The longer the war takes, the less able Turkey will be in supporting the GNA with an increasingly worrying economic situation. The help of Qatar will likely mitigate the economic burden on Turkish intervention, which reports and even Qatar’s official stance suggest is the economic backer of Turkey/GNA. Economic ties will almost certainly increase in the event of a GNA/Turkey victory and would support Turkish advances in the EEZ dispute in the Mediterranean Sea. This will likely give Turkey favourable negotiation terms with disputed countries. Turkey is seeking to increase its domestic weapons market and will highly likely work closely with Libya in equipping an army that serves a pro-Turkish government in the region. 

LNA Victory

Turkey will almost certainly have to withdraw from Libya in the event of an LNA victory, which it is actively seeking to undermine. If LNA makes considerable gains, it is unlikely Turkey will withdraw, the level of intervention has a realistic probability of increasing. This level is mitigated by Russian involvement, as seen in Syria, Russia may likely force Turkey to be hesitant in engaging Russian PMCs. Egypt is citing that Sirte and Jufra air base are ‘red line’, and that Egypt is prepared to engage in combat to protect interests, which would increase LNA victory prospects. Turkey would have little to no hope of economic cooperation with Libya in this case, and the EEZ dispute that depends on Libya would be nullified, leaving Turkey completely alone in the international community in this dispute. Contracts would be terminated, and this would be a significant loss for Turkey’s political, economic, and security interests. With boosted reinforcements on both sides, fighting has realistic probability of reaching relative stalemate. Eventually a dialogue is required, and if Turkey can secure its own interests in the Mediterranean and economic cooperation, it will likely help broker a ceasefire that may lead to a divided Libya. Haftar’s popular mandate in his controlled territory would indicate possible intention for ‘partition’, with calls for a ceasefire with the GNA, it is highly unlikely that he would willingly give up control if this occurs. Many Haftar supporters have voiced intention for a federalist system. This divided Libya scenario would still serve Turkey’s economic, political, and security goals in the country.


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