Turkey Increases Military Involvement in Libya

Growing Turkish involvement in Libya includes the delivery of armored vehicles to the al-Sarraj-led Government of National Accord, as well as the training of armed militias loyal to the GNA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Fayez al-Sarraj, head of Libya's Government of National Accord (Archive photo: AP)

Since the fall of the Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya is divided between an internationally backed government – the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, based in Tripoli, and a rival authority under General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), in the east. Turkey is a main ally of the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj and its armed militias.

In early May, the GNA spokesman said his administration was talking to its ally Turkey to obtain “anything that is needed to stop the assault,” including military and civilian help. The GNA’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha made a lengthy visit to Ankara, probably to arrange the arms shipment. Bashagha is from Misrata – a Libyan city with strong historical links to Turkey.

On May 18, 2019, Turkey sent a large shipment of military equipment to pro-GNA militias controlling Tripoli and fighting the LNA. The Turkish military assistance came amid the GNA’s efforts to stop the Libyan National Army attack on the capital, Tripoli.

The cargo ship “Amazon,” flying a Moldovan flag, had sailed from the northern Black Sea port of Samsun, Turkey. Its cargo included a shipment of around 40 armored vehicles of Turkish origin that came from northern Turkey. The vessel had unloaded its cargo at one of the wharfs of the Tripoli seaport controlled by forces loyal to Salah Badi, leader of the powerful al-Samoud militia.

The delivery of armored vehicles was advertised on the Facebook accounts of Tripoli militias along with photos of weapons, including BMC Kirpi armored vehicles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, high-powered sniper rifles, and ammunition.

The Libyan National Army has released video footage of Turkish military trainers showing militia fighters in Tripoli how to operate Turkish armored vehicles.

Tackling the Mine Threat

The Kirpi Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle was developed by the Turkish BMC company to meet requirements of the Turkish Land Forces Command. It was designed to withstand blasts from mines and improvised explosive devices.

The Kirpi (Turkish for “Hedgehog”) is operated by a crew of three, including driver, gunner, and vehicle commander. It accommodates six to ten passengers, depending on the configuration. Crew and troops enter and leave the vehicle via a side door or rear ramp. There are also roof hatches for observation, firing, and emergency exit in case the vehicle is overturned.

Its armored hull provides protection against 7.62x51 mm armor-piercing rounds and artillery shell splinters. The vehicle’s V-shaped hull was designed to deflect mine blasts away. Crew and passengers are seated on integrated mine-resistant seats that absorb violent force and pressure generated by mine blasts. The Kirpi withstands mine blasts equivalent to 8 kg of TNT.

The MRAP vehicle has a shielded position for the gunner on top of the roof. It is operated manually, can rotate through 360 degrees, and can be armed with a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine gun. The vehicle features numerous firing ports so the troops can fire their individual weapons.

This Kirpi is powered by an 8.9-liter Cummins ISL9E3 turbocharged diesel engine, developing 375 hp. The engine is mated to an Allison automatic transmission with 6 forward and 1 reverse speeds. The vehicle is fitted with run-flat tires and central tire inflation system. This system improves cross-country mobility over various types of terrain. The Kirpi is also fitted with a front-mounted self-recovery winch.

The initial contract for the design of the Kirpi was awarded in 2009, and the prototype since passed severe tests in accordance with NATO standards. The Turkish Army ordered a total of 468 of these MRAP vehicles, and 200 additional units were ordered by Turkish law enforcement agencies.

Tunisia was the first export customer of the Kirpi with an order of 100 vehicles. In 2018, BMC signed a contract to supply 85 armored vehicles to Qatar, including 50 Kirpi MRAP vehicles and 35 Amazon 4x4 multi-purpose armored vehicles.

Summary

Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army launched an offensive to control Tripoli in early April 2019 and the Government of National Accord is currently fighting to prevent the LNA from taking the Libyan capital. As the fighting drags on, 75,000 people have fled their homes and hundreds of civilians have been killed, according to the latest UN figures.

Haftar’s battle to take Tripoli has been slowed by Turkish support for the pro-GNA militias. The LNA said it has destroyed at least 14 of the Turkish armored vehicles using Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles from pre-2011 Gaddafi-era stocks.

Libya has been subject to a UN arms embargo since it plunged into chaos amid the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi and the Turkish arms supply is a violation of the UN embargo.

 

[Sources: Al Arabiya, Military-Today, Defense World]