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Turkey Faces Egyptian Red Line in the Battle for Sirte

Turkey Faces Egyptian Red Line in the Battle for Sirte

The US Department of State to Asharq Al-Awsat: An immediate ceasefire is essential . . .
Saturday, 27 June, 2020 - 09:30
FILE PHOTO: Libyan boys check a damaged car after a shell fell on a residential area at Hadba al-Badri district, in Tripoli, Libya January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
London- Kamil al-Tawil

While all eyes are on the imminent battle in the Libyan city of Sirte between the Government of National Accord (GNA) forces, supported by the Turkish army, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), potentially supported by the Egyptian army, the United States’ position will be central to whether the battle happens or not.

The most recent official statements by the US imply that they are leaning toward avoiding the battle and restoring inter-Libyan dialogue.

US officials have answered Asharq Al-Awsat’s questions about their policy in Libya.

The following report attempts to present answers to pertinent questions on Libya today:

Sirte and al-Jafra battle

The GNA forces have been deploying their forces for weeks to move toward Sirte and al-Jafra. These forces came after the GNA’s forces were able, with Turkish support, to take over the entire western area and the LNA was forced to withdraw. This withdrawal allowed the GNA forces to focus on two fronts only: Sirte and al-Jafra. The attack, however, failed after forces were raided and tens were killed.

Who carried out the raids?

It is not entirely clear. The LNA claims that its air force carries out the tasks required from it, including securing air cover to protect Sirte. However, other reports indicate that the two pilots were Russian.

According to the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), Russian warplanes are taking part in the ongoing battles near Sirte and al-Jafra.

AFRICOM distributed photos confirming the arrival of no less than 14 warplanes to Libya from Russia through Syria, showing that they were repainted to hide their actual source. A spokesperson for AFRICOM told Asharq Al-Awsat in an exclusive interview that the US “has no evidence for that the Russian warplanes in Libya are piloted by Russians and there is concern that they are piloted by inexperienced mercenaries”.

The US warned against the danger of allowing Russia to establish a military base in Libya, considering that it would be a potential threat to NATO.

US officials refused to dwell on the details of the alleged Russian base.

The Americans seem cautious while discussing the topic.

A few days ago, the GNA had distributed what it described as “confessions” by sociologist Maxim Shugaley who was arrested as a Russian spy in Libya in 2019. These alleged confessions indicated that his country was planning on establishing a base in Libya.

What does the US want?

A spokesperson for the US Department of State told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Let’s be clear, the US opposes any foreign military escalation in Libya. It is of utmost importance that there is an immediate ceasefire”.

This “immediate ceasefire” means that the US is opposed to the attack that the GNA and Turks are preparing. The GNA was informed of this position in a meeting with the US ambassador in Libya and the commander of AFRICOM on June 22.

The Egyptian leadership delineated a red line for Turkey in Libya. They first called for a return of dialogue and committing to the truce. Turkey and its allies, however, continued to threaten to move East and take over the two cities. This pushed Sisi to personally transfer to the Sidi Barrani base in West Egypt and told his soldiers to prepare for possible military action in Libya, explicitly announcing that Sirte and al-Jafra were red lines for Egypt’s national security.

It is clear that the Egyptians consider Turkey’s plans for Libya to directly target them.

- France-Turkey-

The current French position is extremely clear in its opposition to the Turkish role in Libya. France is concerned that Erdogan may use Libya to extort Europe like he had done before with refugees, opening his borders for an “invasion of Europe” according to his critics.

Furthermore, France is worried Erdogan may succeed in establishing bases for political Islamist movements in Libya.

The Turks, on the other hand, argue that the French were supporting the LNA whom they consider “illegitimate” while they [Turkey] came to Libya at the request of “a government that is recognized by the United Nations”.

-The Libyan parliament-

The President of the Libyan House of Representatives has played a key role recently. He appeared in the press conference with President al-Sisi and Field Marshal Haftar and announced the beginning of a Libyan-Libyan dialogue initiative.

The US is clearly upset with Haftar and his government. Some indications of this are that the East government has expressed openness toward Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus and that the Libyan embassy has been reopened in Syria. This is entirely opposed to Washington’s policy that aims to isolate the Syrian regime and economically suffocate it.

There is another crucial dispute between the US and the east Libya government and the LNA. This dispute revolves around Libya’s oil exports that have been halted since last year. Supporters of the East government and Haftar banned the export of oil from the ports of the Oil Crescent and the oil fields in the South to pressure al-Sarraj’s government to stop sponsoring Turkish intervention and to stop paying the salaries of Syrian mercenaries from the Libyan treasury of the state. Yesterday, the National Oil Corporation stated that Russian mercenaries had entered the al-Sharara oil field in the south to prevent the resumption of oil exports.

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