The US returns to Libya

The US returns to Libya

The US is preparing to return its military to Libya in one capacity or another. This conclusion is clear from the increasing activity of the United States in Libya.

All of this is formally related to the strengthening of Russia’s position: these are the Pentagon’s statements about the transfer of Russian aircraft to the forces of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar, and the “seizure of $1.1 billion of counterfeit Libyan currency printed by Joint Stock Company Goznak”, and finally in the statement of US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend on the strengthening of the U.S. military presence in Tunisia.

“As Russia continues to fan the flames of the Libyan conflict, regional security in North Africa is a heightened concern,” declared Townsend. “We’re looking at new ways to address mutual security concerns with Tunisia, including the use of our Security Force Assistant Brigade.”

Plans to strengthen the US’ role in Libya may be also associated with the departure of Hassan Salame from the post of Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya in March 2020. A new Special Representative has not yet been appointed, but Stephanie Williams, the former US ambassador to Libya, is now acting as head of the UN mission in Libya. Thus, the US doubled its diplomatic power, as Turkey and Russia became the major players in the conflict after the Moscow intra-Libyan talks.

The US is on its way back

Earlier Stephanie’s friend and Libyan Interior Minister Fathie Bashaga advocated the creation of an American military base in the country to counter Russia. We already wrote that on May 19, the Italian newspaper La Stampa quoted its sources saying that Libya is close to cashing in a military deal with a new strategic partner. This agreement should be reminiscent of that which was previously signed with Turkey.

Given Bashaga’s pro-American ties, who emerged from the 2011 mutiny against Muammar Gaddafi’s government as “NATO liaison”, it is not difficult to assume that the US may become a new ally.

Bashagha’s turn to the West and Turkish Interests in Libya

This explains why Bashaga who was the first Libyan statesman to announce the “Russian” MiG-29 in Libya.

He consistently acts in accordance with the US Libyan policy. In order to return to Libya, the Americans must justify this return by the presence of a serious threat to the country’s interests.

For a long time, the US has been saying that China and Russia are expanding their activities in Africa. China is not the major player in the Libyan situation, so it is necessary to use real or imaginary forms of Russian presence in order to justify the possible return of the US military to the country.

How does the US see the sides of the conflict in Libya?

At the same time, the US is not specifically focused on Bashaga, who is accused of war crimes. Recently Ragab Rahil Abdel-Fadil Al-Magarhy, a Libyan citizen, sued Fathi Bashaga, accusing him of participating in torture, specifically: “Al-Magarhy claims that the GNA’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, inspected the prison and gouged out one of his eyes”.

Why does the US support a man whose image is so discredited? Maybe because all other representatives of GNA are inclined towards another power center – Turkey.

Last week in Turkey: The debate about Libya

Against Mavi Vatan

Is it true that the US is returning to Libya to counter Russia? On one hand, this certainly seems to be the case. The current national security strategy of 2017 designates Russia as the United States’ second most important opponent after China.

On the other hand, it has never been a secret for the US, that some circles in Russia support Khalifa Haftar. However, after the beginning of Haftar’s offensive in April 2019, the US military, which had cooperated with the GNA, suddenly left the country. Moreover, at the same time, a telephone conversation between US President Donald Trump and Haftar was held, in which Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.

The US only became really concerned about the Russian presence when the GNA troops pushed the front away from Tripoli and took over the strategic initiative. The Libyans did so with Turkish support. Ankara is maximizing its weight in Libyan affairs.

After a telephone conversation between the presidents of Turkey and Russia – Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin on May 18 and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on May 21, there were reports of Wagner Group mercenaries being withdrawn from Tripoli.

On 3 June, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov met in Moscow with Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Council, Deputy Chairman of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya Ahmed Omar Maiteeq and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the GNA Muhammed Siyala. The meeting preceded the visit of Libyan delegation to Turkey and talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the head of GNA Fayez Sarraj.

The US has shown a desire to intervene in the Libyan conflict amid Ankara’s victories. The question arises, if they want to help, where were they before?

The United States has learned that Russia and Turkey may try to do what they failed to do in January in Moscow. The United States is out of the game and is trying to get back into it.

Certainly, if the United States were Turkey’s allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, American help for the GNA would be welcome.

However, US interests are the exact opposite of Turkish interests in the region. Washington continues solidarity with the bloc of Greece, Cyprus and Israel and opposes the expansion of Turkey’s maritime zone in the Eastern Mediterranean. The US has a negative attitude towards the agreement on maritime boundaries between GNA and Turkey.

As noted in the study of the Congressional Research Service on Libya (“Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy” issued on April 13, 2020):

“The Turkey-GNA maritime agreement could discourage private sector involvement in Eastern Mediterranean energy exploration and pipelines and further complicate regional actors’ security calculations.” The private sector are the US companies involved in energy projects in Mediterranean.

In other words, the US is not eager to help Ankara, but rather to take advantage of its victory: to enter Libya in order not to give it up to Turkish influence and freeze Turkish projects in the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, formally, such progress can be covered up with phrases about alliance within NATO, including from pro-American circles in Turkey itself.

American interference on the side of the GNA is not beneficial to Turkey. Events on the front near Tripoli show that Ankara is well on its way to confront Haftar. The emergence of the US will only weaken Turkey’s influence within the GNA.

The possibility of changing Russia’s attitude towards the GNA will also disappear. As soon as the Americans arrive in Libya, the issue of Libya will move from the context of Russian-Turkish relations, where there is an opportunity for compromise, to the context of global geopolitical confrontation with the United States.

American intervention will create even more problems in the already confused Libyan conflict and will finally bury the possibility of reconciliation between the warring parties.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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June 2024