Foreign Involvement Increases In Libya Ahead Of Peace Summit

The civil war in Libya has been raging on since early 2014 where many rival factions have battled for power over the country. There are now two main factions who are vying for supremacy, one is the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the other is the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) led by strongman General Khalifa Haftar. While the GNA is based in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, and governs over much of the north-western coastline, the LNA has control over most of the country and its oil-rich land. As reported by BBC News, the LNA has recently seized the third-biggest city of Sirte. The New York Times reports that “The battle has displaced 300,000 people and caused over 2,200 deaths.” The LNA has also been laying siege to the capital of Libya, Tripoli since April 2019.

Both the LNA and the GNA have major political and military backings from foreign powers both in the region and from afar. The LNA has military support from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and France and has recently gained support from Greece. The GNA has far less support for their hold on power as only Turkey, Italy and Qatar openly back their government. Recently the conflict in Libya has turned into a proxy war between these foreign powers. Russia has sent in mercenaries to assist General Haftar with drone and warplane support provided by the UAE. In what can be considered as a retaliation, Turkey has sent both Turkish troops and Syrian rebel fighters into Libya to help the GNA. There have been an estimated 2,000 Syrian fighters deployed by the Turkish government.

While in recent weeks there has been a procession of peace talks commenced by both Turkey and Russia, although it is difficult to see how this will unfold. General Haftar walked out of the first round of peace talks which was held in Russia. There will be a new round of talks on the 19th of January hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and will include many of the foreign powers who have a vested interest in Libya. This has been done in the hope that there can be a peace deal ironed out which will see an end to the foreign presence and see peace restored in Libya.

The immense foreign involvement in the conflict in Libya is an unfortunate yet predictable occurrence within a resource-rich country with great strategic value. While foreign involvement which aims to augment the stability of the country should be welcome, there should be no deployment of foreign soldiers into the battlegrounds. This type of military involvement in the affairs of Libya will only perpetuate the instability of the country and the suffering of the Libyan people. In an interview with the BBC, the UN’s Libya Envoy Ghassan Salamé said foreign support of proxy groups in the conflict had created a “vicious cycle” of violence. Thus, the decision by both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin to deploy militants into Libya to help their respective sides of the GNA and the LNA will only add to the causalities and violence in Libya. This move also completely contradicts their actions to mediate a peace deal between the two opposing factions. It allows the opposing sides to utilize or have the advantage of weapons and artillery that they would not otherwise have access to, without the help of these outside powers. This will see more devastating sets of arsenals unleashed on the people of Libya. Already there have been more usage of highly sophisticated technology with the UAE sending jets and drones to help support the siege of Tripoli alongside logistical support provided by Egypt and Russian mercenaries, as reported by the New York Times. This type of support only aims to further the international influence of these countries and their strategic interests.

The increased violence which has arisen due to foreign involvement has been denounced by many Libyans. In an interview with the New York Times, Walid Khashib, a 35-year-old Libyan bank clerk said: “We Libyans don’t want Turkish or Syrian or Russian or any other foreign troops, we just want the issue to be resolved.” The governments of Russia and Turkey should respect the wishes of the Libyan people. Their destinies should not be dictated by foreign governments and instead be left to the Libyan people.

The EU has largely been uninvolved in the Libyan conflict, this is likely due to the fact that the current crisis in Libya has arisen from the fallout of the ousting of the Autocratic Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi. This was done by a NATO-backed military force and the ousting eventually led to Colonel Gaddafi’s killing by Libyans. As such the EU has mostly tried to refrain from being involved in this conflict through means of military intervention. However, there are still many tactics the EU could take in helping to deescalate the conflict.

The main priority should firstly be on pressuring Russia, Turkey, and the UAE to remove their military forces from Libya. The goal should be, at the very getting them to disengage there military involvement in the conflict occurring in the country. This should be done through the threat and potential action of sanctions upon these nations, however, these must not be heavy sanctions as it could create further unease between these countries and the EU. Before this is done there must also be questions asked of France as they are openly supporting the LNA, which has bombed civilians in the past. As a highly developed nation that is seen as a strong democratic country it is rather unusual that they would support a militiaman. It is contradictory to the current style of government in France and the ideals which they portray. France should withdraw its support of General Haftar’s LNA in order to help strengthen the EU’s stance of installing peace into the region.

During the peace talks which will take place on the 19th of January, the EU must take a united stance which will pressure both Turkey and Russia to withdraw their forces. This may be hard to implement however as France and Italy are supporting the opposing sides of the conflict. However, the effort should emphasize the need to not exacerbate the conflict in Libya. The priority must also lay with getting both sides to agree to a ceasefire. Alongside the implementation of this ceasefire, the EU should follow the suggestion of the European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, who stated that they should create a bloc of troops that could be sent to monitor the adherence of both sides to the potential ceasefire. This would be able to not only demonstrate the EU’s commitment to promoting peace in the region but also put pressure on Russian and Turkey to help sustain the ceasefire.

Alongside the EU sending troops over to Libya there should be support for relief crews being deployed to help rebuild key service buildings such as hospitals, which have been destroyed throughout the war. CNN has reported that UNICEF has found that “Nearly 30 health facilities have been damaged in the fighting and 13 of them had to be closed.” This is untenable and the EU should aim to promote efforts that would see the reconstruction of these buildings.

Due to there being many nations involved in the Libyan conflict, along with the many different factions in Libya itself, this war will be quite difficult to resolve. While these peace talks which are occurring will bring further clarity to the situation, the resolution of this civil war is still a long way off. The EU will have to announce its standing on Libya during these talks if they want to have an impact on any peaceful resolutions.