Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Financial Times that the UN-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) will agree to a ceasefire if Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar withdraw from key cities.
He said that there was a “determination” within the Tripoli-based administration, which is militarily backed by Turkey, to resume its offensive against Haftar’s force if they do not retreat from Sirte, a strategic port city, and Jufra, home to a large airbase in the center of the country.
He hinted that Ankara might support an attack, describing the GNA’s terms as “legitimate and reasonable”.
His comments confirm the threat that the conflict in Libya, which has turned into a proxy war, could enter a new stage even as diplomats warn that escalation would risk triggering a confrontation between foreign powers who support rival Libyan parties.
Turkey publicly intervened in Libya at the request of the GNA, after agreements were signed between the two in November 2019. The agreements allow Ankara to explore for oil and gas off the Libyan coast, as well as redrawing maritime borders between the two countries.
The agreement also led to Ankara’s deployment of air defense systems, warships, weapons, armed advisers, trainers, and forces including Syrian militias, to support the GNA, which helped turn the tide of the 15 month long conflict.
The war erupted after the LNA, which has controlled eastern Libya since 2015, launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April 2019. Following Turkey’s intervention, the LNA was pushed out of western Libya and retreated to Sirte, in central Libya.
A retaliatory attack by the LNA on Turkish positions at Al-Watiya airbase recently occurred. Cavusoglu said an investigation to determine who was responsible was underway, vowing that they “will pay” and that Turkey had “trainers and technical staff” at the base, but none were harmed in the air raid.
The Turkish Foreign Minister said Russia had presented a ceasefire offer during talks in Istanbul last month with a “concrete date and time”. The GNA stated during consultations with Ankara that Sirte and Jufra were necessary preconditions and that LNA forces must return to their positions held in 2015.
“Now it depends on the other side; they should accept these preconditions for a lasting ceasefire,” Cavusoglu said. Asked if he was concerned that Turkey risked being involved in a wider conflict, Cavusoglu said: “We are not for any kind of escalation in the region or war, but their [LNA backers] engagement is with a putschist, Haftar”.
Can Kasaboglu, director of security and defense studies in Edam, an Istanbul-based research center, said Turkey’s final strategy was to defeat Haftar, giving Ankara a strong hand in negotiations over Libya’s future.
“This is clearly an offensive mission and from a military-geostrategic standpoint, it differs from what has been achieved up until now,” he said. “Overall, it is risky but can be accomplished”.