LIBYA: Turkish Tactics Triumph
The December 24 elections did not happen and there are disagreements in Libya and the UN over a new date for national elections. The UN also wants to replace many of the local officials in the GNU (Government of National Unity). In late 2020 the UN brokered the creation of the GNU, yet another temporary government to unite Libya. The Turks, Russians, GNA (Government of National Accord), HoR (House of Representatives) and LNA (Libyan National Army) agreed to withdraw their forces as part of a late 2020 ceasefire/national unification plan. This agreement called for national elections to be held by the end of 2021. That did not happen, mainly because of the continued presence of Turkish forces and disagreements over the new constitution and who can run for office. The Turks realize they don’t have to fight to remain in Libya, just disrupt and delay any efforts, like elections or a UN condemnation, to force them to leave or fight to stay.
With those tactics Turkey also blocks efforts to bring an end to twelve years of civil war. This makes Turkey unpopular with most Libyans. Turkey does not care and is determined to get its way. This became a problem in early 2020 when the Turks sent enough troops to rescue the GNA, a failed UN and Moslem Brotherhood backed government. The GNA failed to attract a national following and instead a local military leader, with a locally recruited army of trained and better disciplined soldiers, tried to do what UN diplomacy and threats could not. The eastern force, the LNA, has been around since 2015, when it was formed in eastern Libya and proceeded to eliminate rivals, especially Islamic radical groups, throughout the country. The LNA is still dealing with Islamic terrorist and tribal feuds in the south. The tribal and Islamic terrorist groups sustain themselves by smuggling and stealing oil and using crude refineries to turn it into kerosine that is then sold on the black market. The GNA is preoccupied by efforts to keep the peace in Tripoli, where rival militias continue to fight each other.
The rival HoR government, which opposes another Islamic government and UN support for the Islamic factions, backs the LNA. In early 2019 all the GNA had left was the traditional capital (Tripoli) and the nearby (to the east) coastal city of Misrata. Both cities are dominated by dozens of rival militias, many of them seeking an Islamic government but mainly looking out for themselves. The LNA went after Tripoli in early 2019, from two sides and slowly pushed back the desperate militias, who would lose their independence and lucrative criminal enterprises if the LNA succeeded. The UN condemned the LNA and ignored Turkey shipping in weapons and military advisors to assist the GNA. By the end of 2019 Turkey sent in combat troops. The Turkish support violated the UN arms embargo on Libya, as does the support Russia, Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and a few other countries have provided for the LNA. The LNA agreed to a ceasefire and national elections. The Turks and thousands of their Syrian Arab mercenaries are still there and prepared to stay indefinitely. Egypt, for the first time in centuries, finds hostile Turkish troops next door and is not pleased.
One thing both the GNA and HoR agree on is the harm done by the people smuggling gangs and European NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that assist the smuggling gangs in getting the illegal migrants to Europe via Libya. For the last three months the GNA has joined the LNA in cracking down on the smugglers and trying to send the illegals back to their home countries.
In other key areas the GNA/UN and the HoR/LNA do not agree, though the LNA/UN keeps trying to replace the effective and incorruptible (by Libyan standards) head of the NOC (National Oil Corporation) who gets along well with the LNA, which controls most of the oil facilities and has long cooperated with the NOC. Increasing oil production and keeping it going has to deal with endemic corruption, including theft of funds and periodic extortion efforts by the PFG ( Petroleum Facilities Guard) militias that protect the oil facilities from everyone except the greedy PFGs.
January 8, 2022: American diplomats believe the December 24th elections could have been held despite continuing disputes over which candidates were legitimate. The situation was made worse when the election commission and GNU officials refused to admit that the elections did not happen. Admitting the obvious would have forced them to give a reason. The Americans back UN plans to get more dependable officials in the GNU and election bureaucracy. The elections are now supposed to be held on January 24th but few in Libya believe that is realistic. More realistic dates are mid-2022 or by the end of the year or never as long as the Turks and the GNA still exist.
January 6, 2022: Libya belongs to the Arab League, but only the UN backed GNA faction is recognized by the Arab League, which limits what the Arab League can do because the rival HoR controls most of the country, and oil facilities. The current mess began in 2011 when the Arab League found itself unable to muster enough unity to deal with the rebellion against dictator Kaddafi, who planned mass murder of Libyans to eliminate the rebels. What the Arab League could do was call for international (Western) intervention in Libya. Many Arabs considered it shameful that the Arab world could not handle the military intervention itself. Despite trillions of dollars in oil income and hundreds of millions of Arabs demanding something be done, the Arab League had to call on outsiders to save Libya from degenerating into an interminable bloodbath. The Western air support enabled the rebels to win, killing Kaddafi in the process. The Arab League then became divided over how to deal with the continued fighting after 2011 and divisions within Libya between those who wanted an Islamic government and the majority who did not. The UN chose the Islamic faction while most Arab League members backed the majority who wanted nothing to do with another Islamic government, which was what Kaddafi used.
December 31, 2021: Many of the 7,000 Syrian Arabs hired by Turkey to serve as mercenaries in Libya report that they have finally gotten some of the seven months of unpaid wages. Only partial payments were made and four months of unpaid wages are still overdue. These Syrian Arabs are paid $600 a month while Turkey handles living expenses, medical care and military supplies for their Syrian mercenaries. This adds up to a total of at least a thousand dollars a month per man. Turkey suffered severe economic setbacks in 2021 which impoverished a lot of Turkish voters and forced the Turkish government to cut expenses where it could, usually without prior notice of explanation about when delayed payments to foreign suppliers (like the Syrian mercs) would be made good. Turkey has hired at least 20.000 Syrian Sunni Arabs mercenaries since 2016 to serve in Syria and later Libya. The Syrian mercs in Syria could more effectively complain about back pay and other problems while those who volunteered for duty in Libya are literally cut off from home. In addition to back pay issues, many of these mercs were not provided with brief trips back to Syria to visit families. These visits, at Turkish expense, were part of the deal for those signing up to serve in Libya for up to a year. Turkey says it will pay these back wages but won’t say when because the economic problems in Turkey are getting worse and the Turkish government has to concentrate on that before dealing with its unpaid mercenaries in Libya.
December 24, 2021: The December 24 elections that are supposed to unite the country under one government did not take place. Libya is still divided by multiple factions, foreign intervention and interference, as well as a major problem with corruption. The situation is further complicated by Russia, one of the few nations with a UN veto, that is blocking the appointment of UN officials to lead the UN Libya operations, if the proposed candidate is seen as a threat to Russian interests in Libya. Several senior UN officials in Libya have resigned, citing the difficulties dealing with the factions and their foreign backers, like Russia. The UN is also unwilling or unable to sanction Turkey for intervening in 2019, and breaking a number of international treaties and UN sanctions, to rescue the UN backed GNA in Tripoli. The result is that the UN insists the December 24 national vote will go ahead eventually while foreigners and locals in Libya doubt the election will work and the fighting will resume.
December 21, 2021: Turkey revealed that nearly 900 Libyan Navy personnel are currently receiving training from the Turkish military and training consultants. The training is permitted under the Memorandum of Understanding on Security and Military Cooperation Turkey with the UN recognized Libyan government in November 2019.
December 20, 2021: The NOC declared force majeure restrictions on the western oil export ports of Zawia and Mellitah. This halted about a third of oil exports. The problem was demands from the local PFG. It took nearly three weeks to deal with the PFG demands.
It’s been a year since PFGs threatened or actually shut down oil exports if they did not receive more money, job security or other special treatment. A year ago, it was back pay and other promised benefits. The PFGs have long been seen as a permanent source of corruption. PFGs are tribal militias hired (or bribed) by previous post-2011 governments to keep oil fields, pipelines and port facilities secure. Soon many, if not most, PFGs went rogue, shut down the facilities they guarded and, in effect, tried to blackmail whoever was paying them to pay more. This was driven by tribal feuds over how oil revenue should be allocated. Libya has always been very corrupt and Kaddafi remained in power for decades by playing the tribes off on each other with oil income. Those who cooperated got more, those who caused trouble got less. With Kaddafi gone many tribes wanted payback for past real or imagined injustices. Many of the PFGs came to support the GNA but as long as some of them continue to resist, oil income is crippled and the much-feared food crisis is still approaching. General Haftar and the HoR government have been successful negotiating with the PFGs and offering a better deal (larger share of oil income) and less corruption. Haftar has a reputation for being much less corrupt. PFGs often shut down oil fields and ports because GNA has not paid them. In these cases, GNA often delivered the cash but some or all of it was stolen by PFG leaders who denied they were stealing. The GNA has to collect and publicize enough evidence of the theft to convince other militias and tribal leaders that the corrupt PFG men must be replaced. This is difficult to do and meanwhile PFGs are constantly demanding “adequate compensation” before they will allow oil to be pumped, moved via a pipeline to the export facilities or loaded on tankers. The details of how much “adequate compensation” any PFG is paid is usually kept secret because in Libya the feeling is that no one group is getting their fair share of the oil wealth that has kept the country functioning since the 1970s. Without the cash provided by oil exports Libya could not import enough food and other essentials to keep the population alive. PFGs are acutely aware that if they lose control of the oil facility they protect, they lose their jobs. This makes many PFGs extremely defensive and paranoid. The overall problem is that PFG compensation has little relationship to how dangerous the work is but rather is more a matter of tribal politics. It has taken several years for tribes in areas where there are oil facilities to realize that if they do not cooperate everyone will suffer, which is what has been happening and is getting worse.
December 19, 2021: An HoR delegation completed a visit to Turkey to work out some of the problems Turkey’s presence in Libya had caused. The Turks had suggested the visit but not a lot was accomplished. The Turks hoped to find some prominent HoR officials they could bribe or intimidate into cooperating with Turkey. It is unclear if that effort had any success.