Six Turkish men detained by rogue Libyan General, Khalifa Haftar, have been released, according to an announcement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday. The men were working on a Libyan ship when they were detained by Haftar and his forces. Al Jazeera reported that they were released at the Sidr airport in Ajdabiya. Despite being held in Libya, the sailors said they preferred to continue working there instead of being sent back to Turkey and will thus remain there.
Colonel Ahmed al-Mismari, Haftar’s spokesman, said that the Libyan National Army (LNA) planned to detain “all Turkish nationals” found in Libya, according to a report by Al Jazeera. However, Mismari later contradicted that statement on Sunday, claiming to know nothing about the detainments. After the six men were detained, the Turkish government put strong pressure on Haftar and his forces to release them. Sinem Koseoglu, a reporter stationed in Istanbul, reported that “There was backdoor diplomacy going on with Turkey through local tribal leaders…[and the Turkish defense ministry] made sure that Haftar’s side was given 72 hours to release the Turkish citizens.” Additional security meetings also took place in Turkey, and Turkey was “preparing for any scenario,” according to Koseoglu.
This issue was resolved peacefully without the use of force or violence, and Turkey’s strategy should continue to be used in similar situations. Haftar and his forces responded well to the “tough talk” used by the Turkish government, according to Al Jazeera, which sets a significant precedent for future discussions. However, the Libyan National Army should not have taken the workers in the first place, as it was unnecessary and ineffective in advancing Haftar’s agenda. The detainment also signals the beginning of a new strategy for Haftar, one that involves endangering even more innocent citizens. Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and his allies must take action to prevent Haftar from detaining more Turkish citizens and avoid any future conflict. Sarraj and his army currently hold more power and land than Haftar’s forces, so this power should be used to secure peace and safety for Libya’s citizens.
Libya has been in a state of political disarray since 2011, when an armed rebellion killed former leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. There are currently two main governments competing for power, with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj holding power in much of the west and General Haftar controlling much of the nation’s south and east. Sarraj’s administration, based in Tripoli, is supported by the United Nations and many other Western nations, including Turkey. Turkey supplies drones and other weapons to Sarraj’s military, the Government of National Accord (GNA). Haftar’s government is supported by Syria, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. His administration has been criticized for attempting to use force to take power from the legitimate Libyan government, contributing to rising tension and division between eastern and western Libya. On June 28, after reporting that his forces spotted and destroyed a Turkish drone flying over Tripoli and revealing plans to strike Turkish vessels located in Libyan waters, Gen. Haftar and his administration “cut all ties with Turkey…threatening to target Turkish interests in Libya, including airline flights and shipping,” according to Al Jazeera. Two days later, Turkey threatened Haftar’s forces with military retaliation “in the most effective and strong way,” claiming that the LNA could become a “significant target.” The next day, the six detainees were released by Haftar, and they will remain in the area as they continue to work overseas.
The release of the detained Turkish citizens, as well as other failed attempts by the LNA to take ore ground, reveal that the group is losing power and momentum in their campaign to take control of Libya. The group lost their main base in Gharyan to the GNA earlier this year, and it would seem likely that Prime Minister Sarraj’s government will have full control of Libya for the near future. However, on Monday, after the six men were released, LNA Commander Mohamed Manfour announced a “new aerial bombardment campaign” after “exhaust[ing] traditional means [to] liberate Tripoli.” This statement could mean that Libyan citizens will see more violence, and the entire region could be in more danger if these attacks take place. The future of Libya and its government is still undetermined, so it is important that political order becomes established without destabilizing the entire region and creating a state of constant danger and violence.