“A political earthquake”! Summed up by a diplomat stationed in Tunis, Turkey’s advance in Libya is gaining momentum. In a few months, after serious failures in 2019 that allowed Ankara to adjust its roadmap, here it is to the rescue of Tripoli and its government of national understanding (GNA). Name of the operation: “Volcano of anger”.
The Turkish expeditionary force, five hundred officers, soldiers and advisers to which are added more than five thousand Syrian mercenaries, could break the logistic line of the army of Marshal Haftar, strong man of the Libyan East. It has been trying in vain for over a year to conquer Tripoli, headquarters of the Central Bank and the national oil company (NOC). An obvious failure despite the support of Russian mercenaries of the Wagner company, Emirati dollars and Egyptian jets.
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From Idlib to Tripoli, the Erdogan diagonal
Turkey was waiting for its time. It rang. “It is a power of NATO which did its homework at home, planning its intervention, implementing it step by step”, notes Jalel Harchaoui, researcher at the Clingendael Institute. Now, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reports on a daily basis the progress of the Ankara army. This has proven to be effective on land dented by almost nine years of civil war.
“They are doing in Libya what the Russians are doing in Syria,” explains Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, associate researcher at the Thomas More Institute. We thought it was a distraction, a Machiavellian manipulation on the part of the Erdogan regime. We forgot that it is a national army, not janissaries. “
The Turkish offensive really started in November 2019. We are rebuilding runways for planes, ammunition is arriving by sea, we are investing in human resources, the national army, local militias, the usual patchwork. The Syrian mercenaries will follow at the end of December, paid 2,000 dollars a month against 400 when they work in their country of origin. A low cost for sponsors.
Ankara scores its first points. Her drones, the TB2 made by the company where Erdogan’s son-in-law works, inflict serious warnings on Haftar’s soldiery. The North West, Tripoli and its southern flank change hands. The marshal tried to suffocate the capital by controlling cities all around, from Sabratah to Tahrounah. Its forces were defeated in the first city. The Al Watyah air base, which he has had since 2014, fell into the hands of the GNA. A serious blow which cuts the logistics line: it was the second base of the country. The battle of Tahrounah, a key city east of Tripoli, begins. “They support the government of national understanding, which the international community has been unable to do,” continues Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier.
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A Mediterranean sea with a gas scent
“If the Libyan adventure is successful, it will be reimbursed,” predicts Jalel Harchaoui. The maritime agreement signed on November 27, 2019, “the knife under the throat” according to one of the speakers, allows Ankara to start prospecting and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. Sharing the sea with the scent of gas. Huge reserves have been detected there. Turkey has negotiated the agreement with the GNA. Without it, the agreement will lapse. It must therefore be supported at all costs. This partly explains Ankara’s relentlessness.
The past invites itself: in 2009, Erdogan and 150 business leaders visited Colonel Gaddafi. Twenty billion euros of contracts are signed. Tripoli and Sehba airports, highway to the east, power plants, housing: Libya is becoming one of the country’s main economic outlets. But since then, the lack of stability – to put it mildly – has made many projects null and void. “Before 2011, a quarter of Turkish expatriates worked in Libya, more than 18,000,” says Mongrenier.
If the revolution puts business on hold, the reconstruction of Libya is estimated at “one hundred billion dollars” by the World Bank. Enough to dream of many powers in search of markets. “Recovering the contracts will require sharing with the Russians in the east,” continues Mongrenier. A gentlemen agreement ? “Certainly not, there is no gentleman in this story! In the background, a partition of the country could take shape. “Like Sudan and South Sudan,” concludes Harchaoui. Turkey has put the Mediterranean back at the center of concerns.
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