Libya: Peace In Our Time

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Posted – 10th March 2021

The new GNU (Government of National Unity) is a month old and while Abdul Dbeibeh, the GNU prime minister is making progress with appointing 26 new government ministers and moving the GNU capital to Sirte, the nature of the GNU security forces is still unsettled, as is the status of foreign troops, especially the hated Turks. A related issue is the legality of the treaty the GNA (Government of National Accord), signed with the Turks in late 2019. This agreement has Libya and Turkey agreeing to claim and exploit offshore oil and gas discoveries in the waters between Libya and Turkey. Even the UN opposes this deal because it violates numerous treaties that have established rules for how this division of offshore resources is done. The GNA-Turkey deal is similar to the claims China is making in the South China Sea. Greece refuses to negotiate with the Turks over this and is instead appealing the UN and international tribunals that handle such disputes. China was tried this way over its South China Sea claims and ignored the ruling upholding accusations that China was acting illegally. Turkey is no China, does not have the means to enforce its claims, and the Greeks (and many Turks) know it. One of the things most Libyans agree on is the importance of getting the Turks out of Libya. T he rival HoR (House of Representatives) government in the east, based in Tobruk agreed to the GNU with the understanding that security would be a priority and that the status of LNA (Libyan National Army) founder and leader Khalifa Haftar would be “respected”. The Turks, Islamic militias and GNA diehards hate Haftar and want him gone if not imprisoned. Most Libyans oppose that because Haftar suppressed Islamic terrorism in Libya and nearly united the country under the HoR until the GNA made a deal with the Turks. To further complicate matters, the HoR has long been supported by Russia, Egypt and the Gulf Arabs while the GNA has received support from Iran. The Turks have also worked with Iran in Syria and against Kurdish separatists in general. Both Turkey and Iran support Islamic terrorists when it suits their purposes. The most acceptable solution to the security issue seems to be regional security commands that would put Haftar-led forces in charge of security in some regions.

The 2020 temporary ceasefire has been holding despite Turkish threats to resume their attacks. There have been some casualties this year, mainly the result of tribal or ethnic feuds or gangster behavior by Tripoli and Misrata militias. The Turks are seeking to pacify and disarm these militias but are not able to do so with just their Syrian Arab mercenaries. Instead, the Turks are trying to train a professional police force for Tripoli and Misrata but this is a long-term process, not one that can be accomplished in less than a year.

Dealing with the Turks is more difficult because the Turks have become a regional power. There is even a new term to describe the renewed Turk aggressiveness; Bayraktar Diplomacy. The Bayraktar TB1 is a Turkish made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, or drone) designed for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft is rated as a “high endurance” platform. It can stay aloft as long as the similar American Predator. Turkish intervention operations in Syria, Iraq, Armenia and Libya rely on intensive surveillance by UAVs and other intelligence sources. In a Bayraktar intervention, Turkish-supported ground forces, often Syrian Arab mercenaries, deploy a mix of light infantry weapons, anti-tank guided missiles and 12.7mm (50 caliber) sniper rifles. Occasionally they will have mortar and light artillery support. A Bayraktar can also carry and use two Turkish-made laser guided missiles. This weapon and personnel mix is inexpensive, compared to deploying conventional ground forces. Turkish advisers also train local personnel. Turkey’s support for Libya’s GNA is an example of Bayraktar Diplomacy and most Libyans want the Turks and their Syrian mercs gone.

One reason Russia and Turkey remain on good terms is that both countries sell military systems and technology to each other. The Turks have spent billions on procuring Russian S400 air defense systems. Russia is apparently obtaining Hellfire type laser guidance tech from Turkey, who have used locally made missiles with their Bayraktar UAV. Entering service in 2014, Bayraktar is a 650 kg (1,433 pounds) aircraft with a 55 kg (110 pound) payload and an endurance of 24 hours. In 2016 Bayraktar TB2 was equipped to carry two 22.5 kg (50 pound) Turkish designed Mam-L laser-guided missiles. With a range of 8 kilometers, the Mam-l weighs half as much as the American Hellfire and is light enough for Bayraktar TB2 to carry two of them. These are used regularly against PKK separatists in Turkey and Islamic terrorists and rebel groups in Syria as well as more recently against Armenian and Libyan forces. Russia may be building their own version of Mam-L, which Ukraine already did in 2019 when it ordered Bayraktar TB2s armed with Mam-L.

The GNU successor will have to deal with growing Islamic terrorism problems on the southern borders. This is mainly in neighboring Mali. Since 2012 France has been trying to get all Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali, and the southern Sahara Desert regions (also known as the Sahel) in general. A large part of the problem was the past refusal of Western nations to pursue Islamic terrorists defeated years ago in places like Algeria, Morocco and Libya. The survivors of these 1990s defeats went south into the desert and established lucrative smuggling (of drugs and people) and kidnapping (of Westerners) operations that brought in up to $10 million a year. This enabled hundreds of hardcore and experienced Islamic terrorists to continue recruiting and planning new terror attacks against Moslem and Western nations. While a lot of that money was diverted to operating expenses, including bribing or hiring, locals, and corruption there was enough left to buy more weapons than they needed and spreading the word that Islamic terrorism was the way to go and it paid well. This appealed to a lot of young men who had bleak economic prospects and were always up for some adventure, especially if it involved getting a gun, a license to kill or loot, and regular pay. Islamic terrorists are not immune to tribal rivalries, ethnic tensions and corruption. Al Qaeda documents captured over the years indicates internal corruption is still a problem and sometimes it is solved by simply murdering those suspected of such behavior and declaring such prompt executions as God’s Will.

Another thing that kept the Islamic radical pot boiling was the existing ethnic and racial tensions in the region. There was a lot of ethnic and racial animosity in the southern Sahara Desert area, especially in northern Mali and southern Libya. It was most intense in the Mali cities and large towns. Black Africans living northern Mali and, usually in the cities, are often eager for revenge against Arabs, because the most violent Islamic terrorists were Arab, and Tuaregs. The black animosity towards the lighter skinned Tuareg tribesmen of the north is sustained by Tuaregs regularly rebelling against the rule of the black African majority whenever the opportunity presented itself. The Tuaregs also exist in southern Libya and are related to the Berbers, who play a major role in Libyan politics. The animosity between Tuaregs and “Arab” Libyans in the south grew into armed clashes after 2011. One method former (until 2011) dictator Kaddafi used to control Libya since the 1970s was by playing ethnic groups and tribes off each other. That backfired after when this animosity turned to armed feuding. Haftar was successful dealing with this, the Turks and GNA were not.

March 7, 2021: The first UN monitors for the ceasefire and election preparations arrived.

March 4, 2021: Turkey again used its veto power to prevent the EU (European Union) naval embargo enforcement operation from inspecting two Turkish cargo ships for illegal military cargo for Libya. This veto was granted in late 2020 when the Turks threatened to open fire on EU ships if they tried to inspect Turkish cargo ships headed for Libya. The Turks are also using military transports to fly in personnel and equipment to the Watiya airbase south of Tripoli. This is a major Libyan military air base the Turks captured from the LNA in late 2020 and have turned into a Turkish controlled base in Libya.

Russia and Arab states also supply military aid to the LNA but are able to do it by land from Egypt. The Turks have no such land link because most Moslem nations do not approve of the Turkish military presence in Libya. Russia keeps its support quiet and managed to upgrade the engines and weapons systems of the LNA warplanes after the Turks arrived in Libya without anyone noticing. Russia has also flown in some of its own modern Su-34 warplanes to serve along the Cold War era MiG-20 and Su-24 Russian warplanes the LNA inherited from the pre-2011 air force and Russia recently refurnished. Russia has also given the LNA some Su-27 fighters.

February 26, 2021: The NOC (National Oil Company) reported that Libya enjoyed record oil income in January, receiving $1.4 billion for oil sales.

February 24, 2021: In Switzerland the Libyan JMC (Joint Military Commission of GNC and LNA) agreed to terms for a permanent ceasefire. Details have to be worked out by the end of March. That may turn out to be difficult.

February 8, 2021: Russia reported that another of their Syrian Arab mercenaries had died in Libya, bringing the total dead to eight, with over 30 wounded or injured. In Libya, Russian Syrian Arab mercenaries are not seeing much actions even though they have been in Libya since mid-2020, shortly after Russia began hiring Syrian mercenaries for service in Syria. So far at least 3,000 of these Syrian mercenaries have been sent to Libya while an equal number serve in Syria. Russia had an edge in recruiting the best and most reliable Syrian Arabs. This was because the Turks, who had been using Syrian Arab mercenaries since 2016, were detested by most Syrians as an old nemesis once more invading Arab territory. The Russians were seen as true allies because the Russians did not want to control any territory, but did rent a few bases and sell military equipment to Arabs. The Russians had been doing this in Syria for over half a century. In contrast the Turks had occupied and ruled most Arab territory for centuries, and were often quite brutal about it. That imperial rule only ended a century ago and is still remembered. The Russian offer the same pay as the Turks, but not the incentive of a residency permit in Turkey.

February 5, 2021: The two rival Libyan governments reach an agreement on a merger and Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh was selected by the GNC and HoR factions to head the unified GNU and make preparations for national elections in December. The GNU will use the coastal city of Sirte as its capital. Prime Minister Dbeibeh is from Misrata, where he was born in 1959, and was educated in Canadian universities before returning to become a successful businessman in the 1980s. During the 2011 revolution Dbeibeh favored the Moslem Brotherhood but was perceived as doing so mainly to protect his family and business interests. Is known to have used corrupt behavior to keep his businesses going during the decade of fighting but is trusted enough to form the temporary government and organize the elections.

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