Beefed up with cash, weapons and mercenaries, Haftar has ordered his militias to prepare for a war with Turkey, ignoring the UN-brokered ceasefire and other efforts aimed at ending the Libyan conflict.
Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar on Thursday made a direct threat to Turkey, saying there will be no security or peace in the North African country until Ankara stopped supporting the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
Haftar's comments came on the heels of the Turkish parliament's decision to extend troop deployment in Libya for another 18 months. It was on the GNA's request Ankara gave its military assistance to the embattled government, which was on the brink of collapse as Haftar's militias and mercenaries loyal to him had encircled the UN-recognised capital of Tripoli and were preparing for a final assault on it last year.
While observing the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence, Haftar made use of radical rhetoric, calling Turkey "the colonizing enemy" which has "one of two choices: either to leave peacefully or to be driven out by force".
Turkey was quick to call out Haftar's speech, saying the warlord would face "heavy consequences" and his forces, including ragtag militias and mercenaries, would become legitimate targets if the Turkish forces and interests were threatened.
So when Haftar, UAE, France and Egypt were bombing Libyan cities over the past 6 years, including the 1 year shelling with Russian support from April 2019, they were bombing Turkish people?? Reminder: Turkey assisted Libya to defeat these murderers only from December 2019. https://t.co/z5BoRfx87r— Ahmed Sewehli (@LibyanIntegrity) December 24, 2020
Commenting on Libya's independence day, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) urged all the stakeholders in the Libyan conflict to respect the UN-brokered ceasefire, which was declared in October, and work toward a political roadmap that demands an election to be held in December 2021.
Instead of observing the ceasefire, Haftar's militias continue to destabilize the region and reverse all the recent gains made by the UN to bring some peace to the country. In early December, Haftar's militants violated the ceasefire on several occasions, prompting a sharp condemnation from Libya's High State of Council.
Despite the ceasefire deal, Haftar's brutal conduct doesn't seem to have changed as yet. One of the main components of the deal was to clear Libya from all the foreign forces and mercenaries within three months time.
Instead of upholding the promise, Haftar is reportedly working against it. In the past few months, Russia and the UAE has increased its supply of mercenaries and weapons to the warlord. Now Haftar's forces not only consist of unruly militias who are known for committing war crimes in undisguised barbarity, but also combat-ready foreign mercenaries, which includes Syrian regime militias, former Daesh terrorists and criminals.
New reports suggest that the UAE, Russia and France are working in tandem to complicate the Libyan conflict and jeopardise all the work of the international community toward peacebuilding in the war-torn nation.
Turkey’s decision of extending troops in Libya has another dimension: the GNA officials have warned the international community of detecting a massive military mobilisation from Haftar's militias in Benghazi and other east Libyan cities and towards the western region, where Tripoli is located.
The acting envoy of the United Nations for Libya previously said that there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, hinting at Russia and the UAE’s reinforcement of Haftar with foreign mercenaries.
In response to warlord Haftar’s new war threats, spokesperson of Libyan Army Mohamed Gununu says there will be no peace with the criminals and aggressors, adding that the prison is the right place for Haftar pic.twitter.com/pthDUfNoN1— The Libya Observer (@Lyobserver) December 24, 2020
On December 23, a special envoy to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to Northwest Africa, Dr Guma el Gamaty told TRT World that they have "witness reports" from the Benghazi region clearly suggesting that Syria-based Cham Wings flights were used to transport mercenaries over the last two years to add strength to Haftar's militias. The hired fighters, he said, included the Syrian regime fighters and fighters from Russia's Wagner Group.
"We also know and have reports confirmed by the US that the UAE is funding these fighters arriving from Syria to Benghazi and there is a clear cooperation between the UAE and Russia in providing Haftar with military support including weapons and fighters where the UAE is the financier of these operations," said Gamaty, who is also an academic and politician heading the Taghyeer political party in Libya.
A few days ago, another media report quoting a 'source' at Benina International Airport in Benghazi also emerged that Haftar was expecting to receive new reinforcements from Damascus via Cham Wings by early December.
What's behind sending reinforcements to Haftar?
According to Abdul-Hadi Daraa, the spokesman of the Sirte-Jufra Operations, Haftar's aggressive stance reveals that he isn't hopeful for any peaceful resolution and, instead, rather interested in preparing for military manoeuvres in case negotiations fail.
On the other hand, Russian media outlets unveiled details about the movement of a heavy anti-aircraft system, the Serbian LRSVM Morava system, from the UAE to warlord Haftar, adding that Abu Dhabi owned the modern Serbian anti-aircraft systems and it had transported them to Haftar’s militias in Libya.
Russian media also pointed out that the LRSVM Morava systems had been seen in military manoeuvres completed by the so-called Tariq bin Ziyad Brigade of Haftar’s militia.
The UAE has been one of the main supporters and sponsors of Haftar and his militias. Abu Dhabi has supplied him with advanced weaponry systems in violation of the UN arms embargo.
A UN report previously revealed that the UAE supplied Haftar with the Russian-made advanced air defence systems, Pantsir S-1s, which were installed at the al-Jufra base near the town of Gharyan.
Haftar’s militias rely heavily on Emirati airpower which includes the alleged deployment of Chinese-made drones, Wing Loong II. They have been used during attacks on the UN-backed government in Tripoli, as well as in the killing of 26 unarmed cadets at a military academy in Libya's capital in January 2020.