Go Big or Go Home: Military Assistance Package Underway for Libya - Ercan Emre Çelik

Key Point: Turkey drastically steps up its security assistance to Libya and plans to establish a military presence in the country to make sure its deal with Libya on maritime jurisdiction in the Mediterranean remains uninterrupted.

On the night of December the 7th, when the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Turkey and Libya on Delimitation of Maritime Jurisdiction Areas in the Mediterranean was published in the official gazette, news outlets reported the deal as breaking news. Indeed, it was such a kind. Perhaps it can be described as the first major diplomatic initiative taken by Turkey on the energy dispute in Eastern Mediterranean, which for far too long relied on the might of Turkish Navy who recently came into another standoff but this time with the French Navy and a commercial vessel belonging to BP.

The deal was protested and recognized as null and void by the EU Council and Greece. The very essence and aspects of this agreement were covered well at our twelfth issue by Aria İdil Kadirli. And with the statements made by various authorities including President Erdogan, Turkey has also signaled a significant policy shift in the region, calling on Israel, Egypt, and Lebanon that Turkey is open for negotiating agreements of the same kind with neighboring countries. These statements were followed by Erdogan, stating that this agreement was part of a two treaty package, and Turkey was ready to send troops into Libya under the framework of this second agreement, which until today was not publically available.

Of course, the offset of this agreement would be a generous security assistance package to Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). Because the current turmoil in Libya is very fragile and to speak frankly, the situation on the ground is not very promising for Fayez Al-Sarraj’s GNA as the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar, enjoys military and political control over the majority of territories in Libya along with the backing of local tribes. Therefore, given the sensitivity and importance of this maritime jurisdictions deal, it is critically vital for Turkish national security policy to keep Al-Sarraj in power and make sure that the legitimate government in Libya defeats LNA, which has the backing of Egypt and UAE along with other major foreign powers.

Currently, as per the Panel of Experts Report Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1973, Turkish military support to Libya consists of Kirpi mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAP) and Bayraktar unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) along with a small number of experts which also includes three Pakistani nationals contracted to support GNA’s air campaign. Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies any involvement of Turkish personnel in the security assistance and stated that this personnel was brought to Libya to review security protocols in place for the embassy. The UN report also concludes that Bayraktar drones are delivered in parts and assembled at Misrata, which is the second stronghold of GNA. These drones, after becoming operational, fly sorties near the regions of Misrata and Mitiga on Northern Libya.

With stakes too high to lose for GNA, agreement with Turkey concerning maritime jurisdiction to prevent further Greek access to Eastern Mediterranean, threatening Turkish interests in the region, of course, would come with a price. Given the small scale of existing support to GNA and its ability to lead troops lacking the discipline of a regular army and effective command structure, with this new deal, GNA gets to have a real chance of tackling Haftar’s LNA.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Libya on Security and Military Cooperation, which currently is at the Turkish parliament awaiting approval, covers a wide range of security requirements of GNA, making sure that Libyan commitment to the agreement concerning maritime jurisdiction in the Mediterranean is to remain uninterrupted. The Agreement includes the exchange of personnel, material, equipment, information, and experience to support GNA.

This week, President Erdogan said during an interview that should the formal requests are made, the Turkish military may be deployed to Libya. Once passing the parliament and signed by the President, with this agreement, Turkish Armed Forces will establish a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to undertake police and military responsibilities in Libya, which would mark a sudden increase in Turkish involvement in Libya both in terms of military presence and capacity-building.

Interestingly enough, there is another article in the agreement which also covers the establishment of a joint Office of Defence and Security Cooperation in Libya and Turkey. This provision is left optional in the Agreement. Still, the writing and the format of the clause suggest inspiration from USA’s Defence Cooperation Offices all around the globe, run by the US Department of Defense. Therefore, we can forecast that such an office will undoubtedly be established in no-time once the agreement becomes in force. This office is tasked to serve as a consulting authority on operation principals, military planning, coordination of intelligence, and operational activities.

This agreement is legally bound to remain in force for three years. It is to be extended automatically for successive periods of one year unless one party does not notify the other to terminate it.

In general, the details of the agreement covers the financial, administrative, and security necessities to implement the program. However, in terms what fields of security and military cooperation is to be provided, as outlined by the Article IV of the agreement, among a large number of areas, few of them attracts our attention apart from the formation of a QRF, intelligence support, and a security cooperation office, and these are;

-Allocation of basing and military ground, sea and air vehicles including armed platforms

-Defense industrial support

-IED/EOD operations (dismantling explosive ordnance)

-Countering Irregular Migration

-Structural and organizational reform of defense and security forces of GNA and their equipment

-Mapping and Hydrography

-Exchanging and sharing information on maritime situational awareness (MSA)

This also allows the sending party, which would be Turkey, to jointly conduct security and ‘peacekeeping’ operations in Libya. To conclude, a large chunk of military provisions in the agreement signals the international community that for Turkey given the military advance and control of LNA over more significant Libya, its foreign policy for the country is stepped up and now it acts on the principle of “Go big or go home.” Of course, with the maritime agreement, this would be expected. But having such a broad scope and by large we mean as abundant as additionally covering naval issues such as hydrography and maritime mapping or supporting Turkish MSA in the Mediterranean, Turkey once again relies on its military muscle to support Libya’s commitment to the agreement it reached with Turkey on maritime jurisdictions.

However, the downside of these agreements in the history of security assistance is that a sudden influx of money and resources draws the attention of foreign actors in ways that it annoys the unsatisfied side and pushes it for further foreign assistance, which in our case would be Egypt and UAE. Previously both UAE and Egypt made statements that the two countries unilaterally may launch an air campaign in support of Haftar’s LNA in Libya. A United Nations report published in November 2019, stated that these airstrikes are taking place. Both the UAE and Egypt have competing interests and relations with Turkey concerning many issues in the Middle East, such as Sudan, Somalia, and many more.

Therefore, this would give incentives for the two countries to expand their footprint in Libya, which can bring these countries into a military crisis and collision with Turkish forces once they are deployed. Legally speaking, the UN currently has an arms embargo on Libya as per the Security Council Resolution 2473. But it is worth mentioning that any state hardly abides by it. And as for its possible setbacks for Turkey, getting more involved over the period draws Turkish forces closer to direct clashes with both Haftar and its sponsoring states, which Turkey has hostile relations with.

On the other hand, this agreement is vitally important to keep the Libyan government on track and committed to its agreement with Turkey on maritime jurisdictions. Therefore, Turkish forces need to have a clearly defined set of rules of engagement and defensive capabilities to make sure that no military crisis takes place in the country involving Turkish personnel which foreign powers would use and take advantage of in opposition to Turkish foreign policy and interests in both North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean, bringing the danger that the war in Libya could spill over into the Mediterranean.