The exchange of threats between the government of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has sparked fears among Turkish nationals working in Libya, a source in Libyan Intelligence told 7Dnews.
Turkey has two types of relations with the oil-rich country. The first is a tense relationship with the Libyan parliament, which is allied to the Libyan National Army (LNA). The second is based on cooperation between Turkey and the Presidency Council, headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, as stipulated by the Political Agreement signed in December 2015 and which resulted in the presence of armed militias in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Ramzi Romeh, a counsellor at the Libyan Centre for Security and Strategic Studies, told 7Dnews that Turkey sends weapons and fighters to Libyan airports and maritime harbours under the Presidency Council, especially in Tripoli, Khoms, and Misrata, 200 km east of Tripoli. "The blatant Turkish intervention is not accepted anymore," Romeh said.
Turkey has been accused of supporting the militias which Al-Sarraj relies on to fend off any attack by the LNA on Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
The escalating feud between Ankara and the LNA has raised fears among the Turks, who are worried about their country's interests in Libya. In Tripoli, security has been tightened around the Turkish embassy and its surrounding area, especially in the Ad-Dahmany neighbourhood.
It has been said that the LNA has stopped Turkish civilians and military men during the past few days, but Brigadier Khaled Mahgoub, the head of Morale Rehab in the LNA, denied it when talking to 7Dnews. "We have not stated anything of the sort. We have not made any statement that we arrested Turkish civilians or officers," Brigadier Mahgoub said. As for the fears that Turkish interests might be targeted by the LNA, Brigadier Mahgoub said, "this is unlikely to happen in the LNA’s strongholds but we are not responsible for the areas controlled by the GNA."
Turkey has sent a diplomatic delegation and an ambassador to Tripoli. It has also been reported that a Turkish semi-official delegation frequently visits two airbases, one in Misrata and the other in Mitiga in Tripoli.
There are no business ties between the eastern cities of Libya and Turkey but businessmen and firms in Tripoli and Misrata have commercial relations with Ankara. Turkey is considered a vital supplier of basic commodities in Tripoli, which is home to two million people. The GNA also relies on Ankara for the treatment of civil war casualities.
"Since Libya was torn by a political division in 2014, Turkey has been biased towards the political party that lost the parliamentary elections in that year," Romeh said.
It is alleged that Justice and Development party in Turkey used the Libyan presidential council and the GNA to establish relations with the outside world, especially with Turkey, which is ruled by the "Justice and Development" party (AKP).
"In previous years, Turkey's support for armed groups in Libya was basically logistical and financial but now it supplies them with drones and weaponry, in breach of a UN arms embargo, to boost their efforts in the ongoing conflict with Haftar's forces,” Romeh said. “We have confirmed information that some Turkish intelligence agents travel incognito as workers and those persons are not welcome in Libya, whether they are military or diplomatic."
The Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, Counselor Akila Saleh, sent two letters on Tuesday, July 2nd, to the Egyptian President, Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, the current chairman of the African Union, and to Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, urging the International Community to stand against Turkish interference in his country.
"These are important messages. We, for our part as Libyan national security personnel, call on the Security Council to hold an urgent meeting to discuss Turkey's dangerous activities, which pose a threat to international peace and security," Romeh added.
In Tripoli, a source in the Libyan intelligence said that the Turkish diplomatic mission in his country had taken precautionary measures, in cooperation with security forces affiliated to the presidential council in Tripoli, to secure its offices and the major workplaces where its citizens work. He added that these measures started immediately after the LNA announced on June 29th that it would ban any commercial flights from Libya to Turkey and would prevent Turkish ships from docking at Libyan ports.
The intelligence source said that about 20 new cars were being painted in the vehicles headquarters of the Libyan Interior Ministry in Tripoli in the colours of the Security Support Forces. These cars are allocated to secure Turkish diplomats’ and citizens’ interests in both Tripoli and Misrata.
He added that Turkish communication technology experts had installed a secure Turkish communication system away from the local telephone network to ensure safe phone calls between the members of the Turkish mission in the Libyan capital.
When asked if there were Turkish military experts in Tripoli and Misrata, he said that at least five Turkish military aircraft are stationed in Misrata and Maitqa airbases where they are supervised by Turkish military personnel.
"Those aircraft took part in bombing the LNA’s positions in Gharyan a few days ago and on Tuesday, July 2nd in striking army positions in Tarhuna," he said. He added that some of those Turkish military personnel had attended "war meetings" held in the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood group in Misrata city during the past two weeks, the last of which was on Saturday, June 29th. “Most of the meeting attendees were non-military leaders of the Libyan Brotherhood group, something which enraged the military circles that are not allied with the Islamist group in Misrata," the intelligence source said.
According to a military source, Turkey seems afraid of any under-the-table cooperation between the military in Misrata and the LNA, despite the apparent feud between them. “The Turks asked for their drones to be moved from from Misrata airbase to Mitiga in Tripoli…They had already moved one which the national army struck at Mitiga base last Friday,” the military source said.
According to Brigadier Mahgoub, on July 1st a Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle, known as "Bayraktar TB2", hit a private farm belonging to a citizen in Tarhunah, 85 kilometres southeast of Tripoli. The same drone was used to strike Gharyan city at the end of last week, causing heavy losses to the LNA. “The Turkish airstrike was launched from Mitiga airbase and targeted both Gharyan and Tarhunah,” Brigadier Mahgoub said. "However, the national army is big and coherent and it continues its operations regardless of any hindrance or betrayals," he added.
Brigadier Mahgoub said that this week the LNA in cooperation with the air force carried out wide operations near Tripoli International Airport, south of the capital and in Wadi Al-Rabie region, which killed at least 75 and wounded hundreds of the forces on which the GNA depends. In a related context, the security department of the oil-rich Ajdabeya town, east of Libya, arrested two Turkish men on Sunday June 30th. An eyewitness from the town said that one of the two men, who is an old man called Mostafa, has been working in a mechanic’s workshop for decades. “The other detainee is a relative of the Turkish old man. Both were released following investigations,” the witness said.
For its part, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on the following day, July 1st, that six Turks were freed after being arrested in Libya by forces loyal to the LNA.
Reuters Agency quoted the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that the released Turks chose to continue working in Libya instead of returning to Turkey. Meanwhile, Anadolu news agency reported that the detainees were sailors, after the Turkish Ministry of Defence had denied they were military personnel.