Turkey's AKP government has over the past year shipped drones, armored vehicles, "laser weapons," and other arms and ammunition to Libya's Tripoli-based pro-Islamist Government of National Accord (GNA), which is led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and which the UN recognizes as Libya's legitimate government. The AKP government has also trained GNA military and police personnel.
While this military support has been reported since as early as 2015, it appears to have expanded in 2019. The policy represents Turkey's role in the ongoing Second Libyan Civil War, which began in 2014 and is now characterized largely by fighting between the GNA and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, which is loyal to the Tobruk-based House Of Representatives (HoR).
The AKP government has reportedly shipped to Libya, among other weapons and military equipment, 100 Kirpi ("Hedgehog") mine-resistant armored vehicles made by Turkish defense firm BMC and reportedly paid for by the government of Qatar. Baykar, a Turkish firm headed by Selçuk Bayraktar, a son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, produces the Turkish drones being used in Libya. In November, the director of Turkey's Directorate of Security said in a speech that "with 50 personnel attending each program, in total 200 members of the Libyan Police Organization are being given the four-week 'Basic Special Operations Training.'"
By supporting the GNA, Turkey is also supporting some enemies of the United States, including Mohamed Ben Dardaf, who was reported killed fighting in the GNA's Somoud Brigade on May 26 and was accused of taking part in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghaz that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. diplomatic staff in September 2012.
This report will review information about the weapons the AKP government is shipping to Libya, their use, Turkish training of Libyan military and police personnel, some of the LNA attacks against Turkish interests in Libya, and possible motivations for the policy.
Turkish Drones, Produced By Erdoğan's Son-In-Law's Company, Kill Libyan Military Officers, Strike Libyan Airbases, And Are Shot Down
There have been many reports of the use of Turkish-made drones against LNA targets in Libya. Whether Turkish soldiers or GNA fighters are piloting them is unclear. Writing in September 2019 under the headline "Turkish Drones In Libya: Both A Strategy And A Family Matter," Turkish journalist Fethim Taştekin pointed out that the drones that are being shot down in Libya are Bayraktar TB2-type drones produced by Baykar, a Turkish firm headed by Selçuk Bayraktar, a son-in-law of President Erdoğan. Taştekin also wrote that "it is believed that Turkish-made drones reached Tripoli for the first time on May 18. It has been noted that four planes [i.e., drones] along with two control stations and their operators were deployed." This account contradicts an April 30 claim by an LNA spokesman that Turkish-made drones were in the country at that time.
The Bayraktar TB2 drone is produced by Baykar, a company headed by Erdoğan's son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar.
On April 30, 2019, it was reported that an LNA spokesman had said that Turkey's AKP government had sent drones capable of carrying explosives to the "militias in Tripoli." On May 15, it was reported that Haftar had said that forces connected to the GNA were using Turkish-made drones. On July 26, Twitter user @TurkishArmedFcs posted images that appear to have been taken by drone showing buildings, some intact and some destroyed by explosions. The user wrote: "Images from after the GNA-linked Libyan Air Force, with the support of Bayraktar TB2 armed drones, struck Haftar's Al-Jafra airbase."
On August 16, it was reported that Haftar claimed that the LNA had struck a hangar housing Turkish drones and military equipment. The hangar was reportedly about a mile east of the Libyan village of Abu Kammash, near the Tunisian border. On September 13, the Libyan Air Force announced that they had shot down three Turkish drones in Misrata and destroyed all aircraft positions in the city. On September 14, the LNA said in a statement that a Turkish drone had killed three soldiers, whose ranks were colonel, major, and private, in an attack south of Tripoli. Under the headline "Turkish Strike To The Alliance Of Evil In Libya! Ottoman Slap To Haftar And The UAE" a Turkish daily known for its Islamist leanings reported this strike as part of a larger operation involving other aircraft in retaliation for the three downed drones the day before.
On October 2, LNA spokesman Ahmet Al-Mismari said that "a few" Turkish-made drones had been destroyed in an attack on airfields in Mitika and Misrata, Libya. On November 21, U.S. Africa Command reported that a drone flying over Tripoli had been lost. On November 26, the Turkish press reported that "Haftar-linked forces had shot down a U.S. drone, thinking it was a Turkish drone."
AKP Government Ships Armored Vehicles, "Lazer Weapons," Small Arms, And Ammunition To Libya In Violation Of UN Arms Embargo
Turkish arms shipments to Libya have been reported as early as February 2015 and have continued through 2019. In February 2015, Reuters reported that Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani said that his government would no longer deal with Turkey, which he said was shipping arms to the government in Tripoli at that time. In December 2018, it was reported that 2.5 million Turkish-made bullets were seized in one shipment at the Khoms port east of Tripoli, and that 3,000 Turkish-made pistols along with other pistols, hunting rifles, and ammunition were seized at the same port a day later.
It was reported on January 15, 2019, that Fatih Al-Maryami, speaker of the Tobruk-based HoR, to which the LNA is loyal, said: "Turkey is training to destabilize Libya, it is sewing the seeds of chaos with arms shipments and publications to mislead young people." On May 5, GNA spokesman Muhannad Younis said in a press conference in Tripoli that: "The [GNA] goverment denies the claims in the media that support the forces of General Halife Haftar that we are taking weapons from Turkey."
On May 18, it was reported that Turkey had shipped Kirpi ("Hedgehog") mine-resistant armored vehicles, made by Turkish defense firm BMC, to Libya. Libyan media reported that more than 100 such vehicles had been purchased by Qatar, were loaded onto a ship called Amazon, which flew a Moldovian flag, in the Turkish city of Samsun, and later arrived at the port in Tripoli. Dozens of videos surfaced on Facebook and Twitter showing the vehicles moving in convoys around the city.
The AKP government sent 100 Kirpi ("Hedgehog") armored vehicles to Libya.
The Associated Foreign Press reported on July 11 that a confidential UN report based on a year-long study found that Turkey, Jordan, and the UAE "routinely and sometimes blatantly supplied weapons [to Libya] with little effort to disguise the source" in violation of the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya since 2011.
On August 4, a Facebook group reported that there had been claims that the GNA had used a "laser weapon" produced by Turkish defense firm ASELSAN mounted on a BMC vehicle to shoot down a Chinese-made Wing Long II armed drone. On August 13, the Turkish daily Yeni Şafak published an article about the downing of the Chinese drone reported on August 4 under the headline "It Was Turkey That Used The Lazer Weapon For The First Time: We Struck It And Brought It Down." The article called the downing "a first in the military history of the world."
Turkish media reported that a Turkish-made "laser weapon" had been used to down a Chinese-made drone in Libya.
According to the Turkish-language edition of the online news outlet Euronews published an article on September 29, 2019, titled "Libya: Ankara And Abu Dhabi Arm Wrestling Behind The Scenes," defense analyst Arnaud Delalande described the conflict as being escalated by the UAE supplying Chinese-made drones to the LNA and Turkey supplying Turkish-made drones to the GNA.
AKP Government Trains GNA Military And Police Personnel
Turkish support of the GNA includes not only arms shipments, but also the training of military and police personnel. On May 30, a video surfaced on the Internet showing Turkish personnel training GNA fighters in the use of the Kirpi armored vehicle. On November 29, Director of Turkey's Directorate of Security Mehmet Aktaş Çankırı, at a "closing ceremony organized for personnel from the Libyan Police Organization," said: "Between 2011 and 2019, our ministries have trained 641 Libyan police in 36 different fields, sometimes in our country, sometimes in Libya. Also between 2012 and 2013, 804 Libya Police Academy Students were trained by our Police Academy ministry. Again, at the request of the Libyan authorities and the instructions of our honorable minister, with 50 personnel attending each program, in total 200 members of the Libyan Police Organization are being given the four-week 'Basic Special Operations Training.'"
LNA Declares Turkish Targets To Be Enemy Targets, Downs Turkish Drones, Publishes Names Of Turkish Military And Intelligence Personnel, Detains Turkish Citizens In Libya
The AKP policy of support for the GNA has resulted in LNA actions against Turkish interests in Libya. On April 12, the LNA arrested Mehmet Demir and Volkan Altınok, two Turkish citizens working in a restaurant in the Qasr bin Gashir neighborhood of northern Tripoli and brought them to the Granada Prison near Benghazi. Pro-Haftar news outlets reportedly said that the two men were spies. As of May 1, the men's families had not heard from them for a few weeks.
On May 21, it was reported that Haftar had threatened to bombard Turkish ships coming into ports in western Libya. On June 29, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari defined Turkish targets as enemy targets, said that Libyan airspace was closed to Turkish planes, and that Turkish ships in Libyan territorial waters would be struck. He also said that "a drone belonging to Turkey had been downed," that "Turkey and Qatar are intervening on behalf of the militants. Turkey is supporting the battle in Tripoli by sea, by ear, and by land," and that Turkish citizens in Libya would be arrested.
President Erdoğan brushed off these threats, saying the next day: "No such information has reached me. If Haftar has given such instructions, we will have it examined. Anyway the necessary precautions have been taken regarding these matters. If necessary we can take different precautions." On June 30, Turkey's Foreign Ministry published a statement regarding the detention of six Turkish citizens in Libya, saying: "Detention of 6 Turkish citizens by Hafter's illegal militia in Libya is an act of banditry and piracy. We expect our citizens to be released immediately. Otherwise, Hafter elements will become legitimate targets." AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik made a similar statement on July 1. The six Turkish citizens detained in Libya were released later that day.
On July 4, it was reported that a Libyan news outlet had published a list of the names of Turkish soldiers and intelligence officials operating in Libya. On August 6, it was reported that Haftar's forces said they had destroyed a Russian-made Ilyushin 76 cargo plane carrying weapons to the GNA. Ukranian company Skyaviatrans, which owned the plane, said it was carrying humanitarian cargo for the Libyan Red Crescent. The Ukranian government repeated this account on Facebook. Two days later, Haftar announced that the LNA had shot down a Turkish plane carrying weapons to Libya. It is not clear whether he was referring to the incident reported on August 6. On October 19, the LNA reported that it had destroyed a Turkish military depot storing weapons and equipment in Misrata.
AKP Policy Supports Fighter Accused Of Taking Part In Attack That Killed U.S. Ambassador Stevens And Three Other Diplomatic Staff Members
The Turkish policy of support for the GNA has created diplomatic complications. On May 26, it was reported that Mohamed Ben Dardaf, who was accused of taking part in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghaz that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. diplomatic staff in September 2012, was killed fighting in the Turkey-backed GNA's Somoud Brigade. On April 8, following the start of the LNA attack on Tripoli on April 4, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke on the phone with GNA Foreign Minister Mohamed Taha Siala and issued a travel warning for Turkish citizens considering traveling to Libya.
On August 27, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said of the two Turkish citizens captured in Tripoli in April that "initiatives are being taken at every level for the release of our citizens Demir and Altınok. The United Nations has been brought out in this context as well." Ahead of a November 24 meeting between U.S. officials and Haftar, GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha accused the Russian government on November 9 of fueling the war in Libya and asked the U.S., with whom the GNA has reportedly been cooperating to carry out airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Libya, to play a bigger role in resolving the conflict.
The AKP's Libya Policy And Its Energy Interests In The Eastern Mediterranean
GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj visited President Erdoğan on November 27 at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul in a two-hour and 15-minute meeting that was closed to the press. In the meeting, the two men signed two memoranda: a "Security And Military Cooperation Agreement Memorandum"; and a "Memorandum Of Agreement Regarding Boundary-Setting For Areas Of Jurisdiction On The Sea." The latter apparently changed the sea boundary between Libya and Turkey. As one journalist described the memorandum: "Turkey's Marmaris-Fethiye-Kaş shoreline and Libya's Derna-Tobruk and Bardia shorelines were made neighbors. The western-most line that connects this line passes within a few nautical miles of Crete. This means that Turkey will have the right to confront developments that threaten its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean beginning from the waters near Crete. At the same time this is the line drawn for the drilling and research ships that are trying to come near Cyprus and that ignore the rights of Cypriot Turks and Turkey to the hydrocarbon beds in the Eastern Mediterranean." Tension over natural gas drilling in the waters around Cyprus has been building over the past several years.
On November 28, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said, answering a question about the agreement: "Even if, because of some known reasons, it does not seem possible to do this with some other countries right now, in the future this may be possible. Whether it be in the Eastern Mediterranean, or the Aegean Sea, while we protect our rights based on international law, we are in favor of fairly sharing the riches of these areas. This is true for the reserves around Cyprus. In the areas outside of our continental shelf and in Cyprus, between the Greek side and the Turkish side, we always defend that guaranteeing that the riches there be fairly shared. Our position is that we are in favor fair sharing by working with everyone concerning these types of riches in the Eastern Mediterranean and the boundary-setting of areas of jurisdiction. If there are countries that do not approach it this way, that is up to them. From now on when there is suitable ground, we will continue to have these discussions with other countries."
Turkish analysts have connected Turkey's Libya policy to its interests in the hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. The IHH Humanitarian And Social Research Center published an article on January 28, 2019, that read: "In Libya, the political structure has functionally been divided into two parts, one being the GNA led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, the other the Tobruk-based House of Representatives Government under the management of Halife Haftar, and the crisis of government in the country has not yet been resolved. Turkey supports the Al-Sarraj government, which came to power through free elections... The purpose of Haftar, who organizes military operations against the local elements that Turkey supports, is to both break Turkey's influence in Libya, and to take his place next to the alliance in the Mediterranean Sea led by Egypt and Israel."
Retired Turkish Maj. Gen. Güray Alpar wrote in an October 8, 2019 analysis for Turkish think tank the Institute of Strategic Thinking: "Some countries do not look kindly upon Turkey's support for Libya's legitimate UN-recognized government. Actually, the matter appears to be directly related to efforts to not allow Turkey to benefit from hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean."
Turkey-Libya Trade Increases And AKP Government Works To Restore Ottoman Artifacts In Libya
As this policy has continued, Turkish trade with Libya has increased, agreements have been signed, and the Turkish government has taken steps to restore historical Ottoman works in Libya. On January 31, a meeting of the Turkey-Libya Building Contractors' Joint Working Group, which Turkish Minister of Commerce Ruhsar Pekcan and GNA planning minister Taher Jehaimi attended, was held in Ankara. Pekcan reported that in 2018, trade between Libya and Turkey had increased 65.3%, or $1.9 billion. The two sides agreed at the meeting that work on the unfinished infrastructure and development projects in Libya by Turkish construction companies should continue. On February 19, when Turkish Ambassador to Libya Serhat Aksen met in Tripoli with High Council Of State Chairman Khalid Al-Mishri, the latter repeated this call and also asked for the resumption of Turkish Airlines flights to Libya.
It was reported on October 8 that the Turkish government was taking steps to restore historical Ottoman works in Tripoli. On October 9, it was announced that the Libyan Iron & Steel Company, founded by late Libyan dictator Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi, had signed a cooperation agreement with Turkish company GEMKOM.
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