Turkey has withdrawn a limited number of Syrian mercenaries from Libya in recent weeks, but the problem of the presence of foreign troops and militias in the war-torn country remains unresolved just two months before the elections. country.
Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangouch confirmed the withdrawal in early October, describing the development as “a very modest start”, before “a larger and more complete organization for the exit of the mercenaries”. Still, reports of further Turkish-led transfers from Syria to Libya seem to be trumping this start. The presence of foreign militias has turned into a stalemate between Russia and Turkey, which support rival Libyan factions in the ten-year civil war.
Russia is insisting that all foreign forces, including Turkish troops and Turkish-backed militias, withdraw while Moscow steps up coordination with Egypt. The withdrawal of the Turkish-backed Syrian fighters came in the wake of normalization talks between Turkey and Egypt in early September – a move that is seen as a good faith gesture by Ankara.
According to sources familiar with the withdrawal process, Turkey withdrew from the country Syrian mercenaries stationed in Misrata and Tripoli on three separate flights in the past two months. The sources told Al-Monitor that the move was part of ongoing normalization efforts between Turkey and Egypt.
According to Libyan sources, among some 5,000 militia troops in the country, about 800 left as of September 30. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates the number of Syrian fighters withdrawn from Libya as of October 13 at around 520.
Yet the War Monitor also reports that some 200 new Syrian fighters were sent to Libya in the same time frame. According to SOHR, the Turkish authorities have asked the leaders of the Syrian opposition to keep their members “on alert” for further transfers.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Russia has withdrawn mercenaries affiliated with Russian private military contractor Wagner backing the Libyan National Army from Khalifa Hifter, the main rival of Turkey-backed forces. In addition to the Syrian fighters, foreign mercenaries in Hifter’s ranks also involve Chadian and Sunday militias.
The Libyan ceasefire negotiated by the UN on October 23, 2020, set a period of three months for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the African nation, but the deadline was not met. Turkey and Russia “tentatively agreed” to launch the withdrawal process at the second Berlin conference on June 23, 2021.
According to SOHR, the total number of Syrian mercenaries fighting in Libya is around 7,000. The United Nations puts the total number of all foreign forces in the country at 20,000.
Meanwhile, on October 8, rival Libyan parties agreed to a plan to withdraw all foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country, a move that UN Special Envoy for Libya Jan Kubis hailed. as a “revolutionary achievement”. The plan for the UN-led Geneva talks contemplates the “gradual, balanced and simultaneous” departure of all foreign troops from the country.
According to Sky News Arabia, the four stages of the plan are the withdrawal of foreign forces from their fighting positions; deployment of UN observers; identification of the total number of foreign forces and mercenaries; and the deportation of all foreign forces, to be completed by 2023.
However, observers remain skeptical. According to Jalel Harchaoui, a Libyan expert at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, the latest developments are far from real change.
Mangoush’s remarks create an “illusion” of change, Harchaoui said, but the foreign minister is aligning himself with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who has close ties to Turkey. Mangoush’s absence from a meeting this month in Benghazi with ministers who oppose Turkey’s policy in Libya “concretely indicates that she is much more aligned with Dbeibeh now,” Harchaoui said. “So she has a greater propensity to say that things are moving in the right direction.”
After the first batch of withdrawals, Mangoush met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on October 15 in Ankara ahead of the Libya Stability Initiative conference held on October 21 in Tripoli, but details of the meeting remain. unknown.
Although Ankara appears flexible on the withdrawal of Syrian mercenaries, she maintains that the presence of Turkish troops in Libya is part of a bilateral military cooperation agreement between Ankara and the government in Tripoli. Russia, in turn, maintains that all foreign forces, including Turkish troops, should withdraw in a gradual and synchronized manner. Both sides are taking advantage of the current ambiguity and deadlock.
This Russian position led to an impasse during the sessions of the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the UN mission in Libya held in early October. A British-led plan for the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries was opposed by Russia, which in turn proposed an alternative plan for the simultaneous, balanced and gradual withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country. The parties eventually agreed to extend the mission’s mandate until January 31, 2022, but did not issue a joint statement.
The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated Moscow’s position after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Moscow. “Our position is clear: it must be done in stages and in a synchronized manner to avoid any risk of undermining the existing balance of power,” Sergey Lavrov said at the joint press conference on October 4.
Some other groups loyal to the Turkish-backed Libyan government of national unity also find the Turkish presence problematic. Brigade, in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. “We don’t control anything and Turkey now controls everything, even foreign policy. ”
The partial withdrawal of Syrian mercenaries appears to be a tactical and deceptive move to avoid pressure on Turkey in the run-up to the December 24 elections. But if ongoing developments disrupt the electoral calendar, Ankara will likely be held accountable for the outcome and further embroiled in this controversy.
SOURCE: The Bharat Express News