By Janet Ekstract
ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has flipped the lid on Haftar as he suffers one defeat after another. Now, Haftar must respond to the pivotal moment in the Libyan conflict as the GNA with the help of Turkey has now leveled the playing field between Haftar’s self-styled Libya National Army (LNA) and GNA forces. As the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj so aptly stated in January, he welcomed Turkey’s assistance largely because the international community had ignored GNA’s predicament. It’s precisely because of Turkish military expertise that the GNA has regained control of all of western Libya while also making a dent in Haftar’s long-term goal to capture Tripoli allowing GNA forces to take control of a number of strategic coastal towns and the strategic airbase al-Wathiya from Haftar forces.
The latest situation that has turned the Libya conflict on its head are reports that Russian mercernaries from Wagner Group left Libya, forcing Haftar to withdraw his militants from the frontline. The Washington Post reported that a Libyan political analyst who also heads up the Sadek Institute in Tripoli Anas al-Ghomati said: “Haftar is experiencing the worst crisis in six years.” But the reality is that Haftar does still control a majority of territory in Libya despite his defeats and that the pivotal moment for Haftar will be exactly what his backers want it to be. Those supporters include the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France and Greece.
Haftar is smack dab at the crossroads of the conflict and for the next two days, called a halt to his forces fighting on the frontline. His losses include the al-Watiyah Air Force Base, Russian self-propelled anti-aircraft complex Pantsir and a number of SAMS and mines destroyed by GNA forces.
Meanwhile, GNA’s Libyan Army Spokesman Colonel Mohamed Gununu reported that 15 military cargo planes were monitored, and landed at Bani Walid Aiport in the last 24 hours. Gununu, in a formal statement said that Russian Wagner mercernaries who fled Southern Tripoli and Tarhuna were seen boarding several Antonov An-14-type military aircraft that were under surveillance as they landed at the airport. What’s significant here is that the aircraft were also used to deliver massive amounts of ammuntion and equipment, Gununu indicated. He also said that Russian movements between Bani Walid and Tarhuna were assisted by four Pantsir missile systems.,
In the Washington Post’s view, how the conflict plays out from now on will depend on the response of Haftar’s major foreign allies, mainly Russia and the UAE and how well they are able to deal with Turkey’s influence in the region. A number of factors play into Haftar’s pivotal moment. Those include his threat on May 21 to conduct ‘the largest air campaign in Libyan history” while also threatening to hit Turkish targets, three days ago. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by saying that in that case, any Haftar forces would be considered legitimate targets. In addition, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hami Aksoy responded by stating that targeting Turkish interests will create a high risk crisis. Another glitch in this conflict is that GNA’s interior ministry announced in the Ministry of Internal Affairs that six Russian MiG-29 fighters and two Su-24 aircraft landed in Libya to assist Haftar.
In the meantime, on May 25, Bloomberg News reported that over a thousand Russian and Syrian mercenaries siding with Haftar, left the frontline. Press reports indicate that approximately 1,600 mercenaries flew in two military transport aircraft from Beni Walid Airport and that their location is currently unknown. A statement from Operation Volcano of Rage’s press office said on Monday, that the Libyan Army temporarily halted operations in Tarhouna, Bani Waleed and Nasma for the next 48 hours as Haftar forces withdraw from those areas.The statement also said GNA forces will continue their aerial surveillance in the region, and that any forces heading north will be targeted. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemned Haftar militias for planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as they withdraw. The UNSMIL in a statement said; “The UNSMIL is concerned about reports that residents of the Ain Zara and Salahuddin areas of Tripoli have been killed or wounded by Improvised Explosive Devices placed in/near their homes.” The UNSMIL said this is an attempt to target residents during the holiday of Eid. The mission added that Libyan police and military engineers who received UN training are doing their best to clear the IEDs from the region.
Another development in the Libyan conflict on Monday, includes the Tobruk-based pro-Haftar assembly rejected an attempted coup by the warlord. This news was issued in a statement by 11 prominent members of the Tobruk-based assembly where they emphasized their support for a peace initiative proposed by their speaker Aguila Saleh. Saleh had announced a proposal for a political solution to the crisis in late April in light of Haftar’s recent defeats. It was after the proposal that Haftar chose to declare himself the sole ruler of Libya, rejecting the previously signed UN-brokered Skhirat agreement signed in 2015 between the warring sides in Libya. Haftar’s declaration was condemned by regional allies and the international community. Haftar was unsuccessful because the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and its speaker Saleh have major tribal support in East Libya. Whatever Haftar’s next move will be rests not only with his backers but depends on Turkey and the international community as well as the UN stepping up to curb his dictatorial appetite.