Sensing a power vacuum in Washington, Europe, and Tel Aviv along with the weakness of North African regimes — and emboldened by his own hubris — Erdogan has promised military boots on the ground in Libya as first reported in « Can Recep the Magnificent Sort Out Libya » on December 17th.
The Second Libyan War is being fought between the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (Tripolitania) or GNA in the west, versus Khalifa Belqasim Haftar’s Libyan National Army or LNA of the east (Tobruk – Cyrenaica) where both factions are largely supported by Libyan oil production, and weaponry supplied by all. Besides the two major factions, the Government of National Accord (GNA) vs the Libyan National Army (LNA) there is considerable support for Saif al Islam, son of the former Libyan leader who was assassinated in collusion with the United States government.
Saif al Islam has strong support in Bani Walid and with the Libyan populace, however Saif is in hiding since the LNA has threatened to shoot him on sight, while the GNA is still quibbling with the International Criminal Court about Gaddafi’s arrest warrant for so-called war crimes, dating from the US destruction of the country in 2011. Thus Saif and his supporters cannot assume a tangible role in ending the Libyan conflict. The conflict may be seen as consisting of three parts, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan vying for power, with the Fezzan split by the major GNA and LNA factions since Saif al Islam Gadaffi is in hiding.
Of the two major factions — GNA and LNA — the GNA is supported by Turkey and Qatar. The LNA is supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Belgium, and the United Arab Emirates. The United States and Russia have taken a hands-off view regarding the Libyan debacle for now, although the Russian leadership has expressed some support for Saif al Islam in the background, should he ever be free to campaign. *
Traditionally viewed as a proxy war or civil war since 2011, the war in Libya represents far more than that. After Syria, Libya’s war represents a snapshot of shifting regional alliances, still being played out, where any one or particular ally may or may not be compatible with the other, based on an historic view.
But with the support of its powerful allies the Libyan National Army has been prevailing in this war. Haftar’s April 2019 offensive versus Tripolitania stalled quickly but was revived with an influx of weaponry from the United Arab Emirates. Haftar’s success in maintaining pressure on the GNA and Tripoli has been troublesome for Turkey, because Turkey receives cheap oil from Misrata which it desperately needs since the US sanctioned Turkey’s oil imports from Iran.
Turkey, apparently feeling renewed pressure on its access to energy resources, recently announced a strategic energy resource corridor in the eastern Mediterranean to the great consternation of just about everyone. Erdogan’s announcement was made just subsequent to (what Turkey believes is) success in northeastern Syria versus the Kurdish agency, although Turkey may face United States sanctions over its actions there and S-400 missile purchase, should the US sanctions bill be signed into law.
Regardless, Erdogan has been emboldened by gaining popular domestic support via his so-far unchallenged challenge to the world order. For the GNA, Turkey’s move to reinforce its position in Libya with boots on the ground is a welcome development in its battle versus LNA heavyweight Haftar.
For Libya’s neighbors, Turkey’s incursion is most distressing especially for Tunisia and Algeria. Seldom reported in the west, Tunisia is now led by newly-elected Qays Sayed a scholar and intellectual generally unknown but universally disliked by most western analysts. So, imagine Saied’s surprise when Recep the Magnificent arrived on his doorstep to ask for a military alliance with Tunis. That’s because Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha unwisely announced that alliance before Erdogan visited Saied… and before Algeria chimed in with its own objections. The proposal for that Turkish alliance was enthusiastically and immediately shot down by Algeria which has great influence in Tunisia.
Algeria’s predicament with a Turkish incursion in Libya is as pressing as Tunisia’s. Algeria has been ruled by its military ever since the Bouteflika brothers took power, and December’s rather disappointing election results see the military’s gain of a new front man, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, assuring continued opaque rule there.
The revolution versus French colonial rule in 1954 put Algeria at the forefront of progressive reform and rejection of Imperial power, especially during the 1970’s.But the eventual accession of Islamist groups in Algeria resulted in civil war and disaster. By 1992 Islamist radicals won parliamentary power and were forced out, that action somewhat reminiscent of the Morsi Muslim Brotherhood ouster in Egypt. The difference is that the Algerian civil war of 1992 raged on for much longer and took many more lives than el Sisi ‘s US-inspired coup in Egypt did.
Most Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) terrorists in Algeria were eventually disarmed, killed, imprisoned, or forced to the remote Sahel region. One example is Abu Walid Sahrawi still at large in the Sahel with a $5M US price on his head, and another is “one eye” Mr Marlboro (so known for his life as a smuggler) Mokhtar Belmokhtar whose Maghreb insurgency was supported by foreign players. Thus Algeria has relied upon its military to prevent the resurgence of such militant Islamism there, which killed thousands of innocents in the GIA’s quest to attain power.
As an emergent oil power, Algeria has pursued a Neoliberal foreign policy since 2000 but the Algerian military has always been distrustful of Turkey and NATO, since Turkey opposed Algeria’s revolution versus France… and one of NATO’s key components is of course France. Algeria’s energy resource exports to Turkey have continually declined since 2014, when Turkey increased oil imports from Misrata rebels in Libya. The belief in Algeria is that the Turkish-sponsored Maghreb insurgency was an attempt to gain bargain access to Libya and Algeria’s oil reserves, thus rendering Turkey a foe to Algeria, even if the popular press states otherwise.
And as an emergent oil power, Algeria has strategic and tactical resources to pursue something of an agenda in North Africa, all but unreported in the west. Since its military rule is opaque, only intelligence sources can provide insight into Algeria’s influence and one source reports that Algeria has been somewhat effective in curbing Turkish influence in Tripolitania so far, and has even halted politically-motivated assassinations there.
Now Erdogan’s latest bravado in landing boots on the ground on behalf of the GNA in Libya is a direct affront to Algeria, with Tunis caught in the middle. Again, Erdogan must sense weakness in the West and in North Africa, but Erdogan’s militarist move in Tripolitania is still an enormous gamble. But before we consider Erdogan’s issues, let’s consider that Turkey has played the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistane (Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) terror card for many years.
Not to denigrate the nature of the Kurdish Workers Party threat, there is no doubt that the PKK has engaged in terrorist acts in Turkey for decades. That the PKK threat may be exaggerated is certainly convenient though when the Turkish government can claim that its broad actions outside of Turkey has resulted in the reduction of PKK domestic violence.
Turkey has certainly leveraged the PKK threat to take aggressive action not only in Syria, but in Iraq too. Turkey may have engaged in its own support for terror groups to pursue that end. Turkey has also supported the Syrian National Army, primarily consisting of Turkmen terrorists. The overall question arises whether the foregoing is based upon national policy, or just Erdogan pushing the envelope.
On Erdogan, the Maghreb Orient Courier reported on the direction of Turkey’s leadership just after the 2018 election: « This heavy-handed, arbitrary system grants all decision-making power to a narrow team in the presidential palace, relegates Parliament to be the president’s notary and the judiciary as his obedient servant. The system privileges quick fixes above consultation, deliberation, transparency and accountability. »
And, “With the recent elections, the Turkish political system has completed its transformation into an executive presidential system without checks and balances. The regime and its leader view the new system as their chance to forever escape the sword of justice.”
In this light, consider that Turkey has faced massive immigration issues based on US regime change wars on its borders for many years. Four million immigrants who may otherwise qualify as war refugees constitutes no laughing matter for Turkey or for anyone. Erdogan has used the immigrant issue to cleverly play the immigrant card with Europe, threatening to unleash another wave of refugees, and Erdogan’s threats have had the desired effect of curbing European economic sanctions on Turkey.
However, and most significantly, Erdogan’s militarist adventure in Libya goes well beyond Turkey’s claimed defensive PKK posture on Syria and Iraq. Turkey is now engaged in imperial hubris and expansion to protect its access to energy resources in Libya, where the PKK does not exist. Turkey’s proposed eastern Mediterranean economic zone and the factual presence of Turkish military boots on the ground in Libya has crossed all lines. Erdogan submits that he is the new geopolitical kid in the bloc, with more than one score to settle and more than one axe to grind.
With great irony, only France’s Macron has stood up to Erdogan so far, even if ineffectually so. The summoning of Turkey’s ambassador for a dressing down in Paris was announced just one day subsequent to the Turkish Interior Minister’s announcement that eleven ISIS terrorists will be repatriated to France. But not all initiative is owned by Turkey even as Turkey tries to turn the screw in Syria.
As this author writes, the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation and Syrian National Army are fighting a flanking movement around Idlib versus Syrian Arab Army forces, stalling recent SAA gains in the province. The motivation is clear: Turkey hopes to maintain its position in Afrin and the northwest while threatening an expanded Libyan intervention. Bearing in mind Turkey’s military presence in Iraq as well, Turkey is attempting to fight three separate wars on three fronts. So perhaps Erdogan and his small circle do truly see themselves as modern incarnates of Suleiman the Magnificent?
Complicating the matter for Turkey in Africa however is France’s effort to reimpose Imperial power in the Sahel as covered in The Secret war in Africa. While the prior may seem far-fetched, consider that Macron’s number one concern is protecting France’s uranium resources in the Sahel, not primarily the elimination of takfiri terrorists. As such, France has expanded its Niamey base in Niger to host United States RQ-4 Reaper drones, rebadged, which perform advanced reconnaissance as well as terror strikes.
Should France’s relationship with Turkey deteriorate further – especially since they are on opposite sides in Libya where Turkey supports the GNA and France the LNA – it will be interesting to see how hostilities between these two NATO lackeys develop. ***
As a NATO ally, Turkey has consistently blamed the United States for siding with the PKK (instead of with Turkey) to defeat ISIS in Syria. The reason for the US to do so is a good one, since Turkey sports its own brand of terror in the form of the National Front for Liberation as well as the Syrian National Army, and because Turkey has its own agenda in Syria, not necessarily aligned with the US agenda. The Turkey/US rift is a long one, dating back to Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, when Hillary Clinton initiated the crisis in Syria and Libya — and many others — and provided the very foundation for ISIS itself which the US State still maintains.
Now, since Turkey crossed the line in Libya and threatens to do so elsewhere (eastern Med/Greece and Cyprus) will the United States be forced to act? Perhaps not, since the US seems to view North Africa and the eastern Med as having little relevance to US interests. In this case, the US might delegate its diplomatic protests to France (just a thought). The complicating factor is of course Turkey’s role as a NATO member. Can the US for example threaten to expel Turkey from NATO in light of its naked aggression in Libya? Unlikely. Strategically, Washington needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Washington and US State might simply see Erdogan as a useful foil to keep Big Boss Haftar in check. That may depend on Turkey too, and whether Erdogan will moderate his behavior in face of concerted French and US resistance on Libya. With the further complication being the role of Algeria.
As a seemingly potential rival to Turkey in North Africa, Algeria could support Haftar versus the GNA with Algeria’s sophisticated surveillance and tactical expertise. That alliance is unlikely however, since Haftar is backed by Egypt and Algeria will not countenance a military alliance with Egypt at this time, according to one source.
Finally, this report only intends to shed some small light on the exceedingly complex political and militarist morass in the Maghreb, which is an ever-changing landscape and has no finality to it. As the West continues to decline and the east searches for unity and direction, dangerous and perhaps deranged buffoons still strut and fret about the world stage, knowing not what they do for their oil, gold, diamonds, land, and resources… while the rest of us suffer for it.
*Reports say that Obama believes his agreement to allow Clinton’s Libyan regime-change war and ordered asassination of Gadaffi to be one of the greatest mistakes of his career.
** Bashagha’s ‘alliance’ must have surprised the Algerian leadership as much as it surprised Tunisia’s!
*** Since both France and Turkey are alleged NATO entities, this reporter’s previous observation that perhaps NATO needs an alliance to protect itself from itself seems relevant here.