Turkey vows to protect Libya from Haftar’s military dictatorship, UAE rallies support for him after recent failures

Turkey has vowed to “defend” Libya’s UN-recognized government after eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar declared himself ruler of the North African country. At the same, time, senior UAE officials visited Sudan to rally support for Haftar after several recent military failures.

Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Haftar on Wednesday of trying to “create a military dictatorship” and said the military leader had shown his true intentions by withdrawing from a landmark UN-brokered agreement to unite the country.

“Turkey will continue to stand by the Libyan people in defending the Government of National Accord and all other legitimate institutions… and to support the efforts for a political solution,” the foreign ministry said.

Turkey’s foreign ministry also urged the international community to respond to Haftar’s actions, adding that the military leader had “undoubtedly exposed his intention to establish a junta regime in Libya”.

“With this announcement, Haftar has once again demonstrated that he does not seek a political solution to the crisis in Libya, does not support international efforts in this regard… and aims to create a military dictatorship in the country,” the ministry added.

The comments came after Haftar declared that he had a “popular mandate” to govern the North African country, and said the 2015 UN agreement had “destroyed” Libya.

“The political agreement destroyed the country. We will work to create the conditions for building permanent civic institutions,” Haftar said in a televised address.

On Tuesday, the GNA responded to Haftar’s announcement, accusing him of staging a “coup”.

“It’s a farce and the latest in a long series of coups d’etat,” the government said in a statement.

Russia and US react

Haftar, a former general under Muammar Gaddafi, has been leading an assault on the capital Tripoli since last April with his militias.

Although Haftar’s militias last year managed to advance into the southern suburbs of Tripoli, it has lost ground to pro-GNA forces during clashes this month.

Russia and the US have urged both parties to resume a political process, with Washington saying it “regrets” Haftar’s nixing of the 2015 agreement.

“The United States regrets Haftar’s suggestion that changes to #Libya’s political structure can be imposed by unilateral declaration and reiterates the call for an immediate humanitarian cessation of hostilities,” the US embassy in Libya said in a statement.

Although the US officially backs the GNA, Tripoli has accused Western powers of covertly backing the military leader.

UAE officials ‘visit Sudan’ to rally support for Libya’s Haftar

A senior Emirati delegation, headed by Tahnoun bin Zayed, spent five hours in Khartoum on Wednesday, reported Al Jazeera.

Several top United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials visited the Sudanese capital to rally support and recruit fighters for Libya’s renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, according to Al Jazeera.

Two planes, one bearing the insignia of Manchester City Football Club, landed in Khartoum on Wednesday and departed back to Abu Dhabi five hours later.

The delegation, led by UAE National Security Adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed, discussed ways of supporting Haftar in light of the setback his self-styled Libyan National Army is facing in his bid to capture Libya’s capital Tripoli.

Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli in April 2019. The 76-year-old’s forces were stalled by fighters aligned to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) which, following a counter-offensive this month, expelled Haftar’s troops from several western cities.

Sources said that the other aircraft carrying a number of high-ranking Emirati officials had arrived on Saturday, spending two hours in Khartoum, before leaving for Chad.

In a 376-page report submitted to the UN Security Council in December, a panel of experts warned that the presence of Sudanese fighters – which analysts estimate at anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 – had become a notable feature of the Libyan conflict and it risked destabilising the country further.

In January this year, the Sudanese government said it would look into a case involving Sudanese men duped into guarding Libyan oil installations by a UAE security firm

GNA retakes three cities from Haftar’s forces

In mid-April, Libya’s internationally recognized government said its troops have seized control of three strategic coastal cities located between the capital, Tripoli, and the Tunisian border after expelling forces loyal to eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar.

“Our forces took control of Surman and Sabratha and are pursuing [Haftar’s forces],” Mohammed Gnunu, spokesperson of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said in a statement.

GNA-aligned forces later in the day retook the city of al-Ajaylat, located some 90km west of Tripoli.

Libya, a large oil producer, has been engulfed in chaos since 2011 when longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising.

In April 2019, Haftar launched a military campaign to wrest control of Tripoli but the offensive was largely stalled by forces loyal to the GNA.

On Facebook on Monday, GNA forces published images of Grad rocket launchers, 10 tanks and armored vehicles they said they captured in the cities, which had been controlled by Salafist militias allied with Haftar.  

Mohammad al-Gammoudi, a GNA commander on the ground, said Surman and Sabratha were seized after “six hours of fighting with air cover”. While Sarraj also said his forces had taken the cities, Haftar’s forces did not immediately comment.

“Government forces say that by overtaking Sabratha and Surman, they can easily take control of all of the entire coast and the highway connecting Tripoli to the Tunisian border,” said Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli.

“GNA forces can also join Amazigh or Berber fighters in the city of Zuwara and can move on al-Watiya airbase, a strategic airbase and stronghold of Haftar southwest of the capital.”

Earlier on 14 April, Colonel Muhammad Qanunu said the GNA’s air defenses intercepted planes belonging to Haftar in the Abu Grain area and shot down the two Chinese-made Wing Loong aircraft and one Russian Mi-35 helicopter.

Sources said the clashes killed nine soldiers from the GNA forces and more than 30 fighters loyal to Haftar, including a number of Sudanese and Chadian fighters.

The sources added GNA forces used drones provided by Turkey to launch raids on Haftar’s militias.

“Military commanders say the latest advance by GNA forces can mainly be attributed to Turkish air support. Control of the skies has recently shifted in favor of the GNA thanks to the Turkish air force,” said Abdulwahed.

The UN says hundreds have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since Haftar launched his battle for Tripoli.   

Several UN-backed attempts to reach a ceasefire have failed and the UN has slammed repeated violations of a 2011 weapons embargo.   

On March 17, the world body and nine countries called on Libya’s warring parties to cease hostilities to allow health authorities to fight against the new coronavirus.

Repeated UN efforts to mediate a ceasefire have not yielded a permanent result and have been on hold since envoy Ghassan Salame quit in early March, citing health reasons.

Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general, said the world governing body is concerned continued fighting will hamper the country’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“We, as you know, have been asking the parties to cease fighting… we need to make sure that they can set aside [their differences] and work together to allow us to deal with the pandemic.”