Turkey is a main ally of Libya’s “recognized” government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Turkey’s president has met with Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, following heightened tensions between Turkey and forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), a rival Libyan authority.
In a statement from his office on July 5, 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his support for Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj’s forces. Erdogan called on Haftar’s forces to cease their attacks.
Turkey provided drones to the GNA and sent on May 18, 2019, 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 LNA attack on the capital, Tripoli.
On June 28, 2019, LNA spokesman, General Ahmad Al-Mesmari, accused Turkey of backing the internationally recognized GNA in Libya’s conflict, and General Khalifa Haftar has ordered his forces to attack Turkish ships and interests in Libya.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said his country would retaliate against any assault from Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya. “There will be a very heavy price for hostile attitudes or attacks, we will retaliate in the most effective and strong way.” He said Turkey’s efforts in Libya sought to “contribute to peace and stability in the region.”
Turkish Drones Destroyed in Libya
The LNA announced that between May and July 2019 it had destroyed four Turkish drones and the main control room for Turkish drones that are operated from the military section of Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
On July 21, 2019, the Libyan National Army said it downed a Turkish drone over Tripoli.
On June 30, 2019, a Turkish drone has been destroyed by forces loyal to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli airport.
On June 6, 2019, the LNA announced that its fighter jets brought down a Turkish drone after raiding its forces in the capital, Tripoli and destroyed the main control room for Turkish drones that are operated from the military section of Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
On May 16, 2019, LNA air defenses shot down a Turkish-made reconnaissance drone in the vicinity of Al-Jufra area in the Central Region of Libya. The drone took off from the Air Force College in Misurata.
Turkish Bayraktar Tactical Block 2 (TB2) Drone in Libya
On June 9, 2019, Libyan sources released a video showing a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unnamed combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) flying west of Tripoli. The footage was the first evidence to confirm that Turkey is operating UCAVs over Libya in order to support the Government of National Accord (GNA).
The control stations for the Bayraktar TB2 were reportedly shipped from the Turkish port of Samsun to Libya in May 2019. The same shipment included mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles.
The Bayraktar Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Project is implemented by under secretariat for the airborne reconnaissance, surveillance and target elimination requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces.
The Bayraktar TB2, manufactured by Baykar Makina, boasts a service ceiling of 8,239 meters (27,030 feet) and a flight endurance of 24 hours. It can carry 150 kilograms of payload and can be operated day and night. With its advanced electronics, software, aerodynamic, design, submain systems, as well as flight automation and performance, the Bayraktar TB2 stands out as one of the most advanced UAV systems in its class.
Performing active reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence flights, the Bayraktar TB2 has the ability to transmit images to operation centers without delay and engage targets.
The drone was first delivered to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in 2014 and upgraded with armament for the first time in 2015.
It is used by the Gendarmerie General Command, General Directorate of Security Forces, and the National Intelligence Organization in their operations. Turkish security forces have been deploying 86 armed Bayraktar TB2 in their military operations both in Turkey and abroad since 2014. Bayraktar TB2 performed more than 90 percent of all the aerial operations, flying over 5,300 hours.
In January 2018, Bayraktar had signed an agreement with Ukrainian company Ukrspetsproject on the purchase of 12 Turkish Bayraktar TB2s for the Ukrainian army. Bayraktar also signed a deal with Qatar in March 2018 to sell six drones for the Qatari forces.
Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive to control Tripoli in early April 2019, and the GNA is currently fighting to prevent the LNA from taking the capital, Tripoli.
Haftar’s battle to take Tripoli has been slowed by Turkish support for the pro-GNA militias. Haftar’s attack has failed to achieve its objectives thus far, with his eastern-based forces struggling to break through the GNA’s front lines along the capital’s southern outskirts. On June 26, 2019, the LNA lost control of the town of Gharyan, around 100 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, it had seized on April 2, 2019, and made its center of operations. Gharyan was the main forward base for the LNA where troops, weapons and ammunition arrived. The LNA still holds the town of Tarhouna southeast of Tripoli, its second main position in the campaign.
LNA commander of the western operations, Major General Abdul Salam al-Hassi said in June 2019 that downing the second Turkish drone since the beginning of the battle to liberate Tripoli means that “Turkey is fighting the national army by sending aircraft and armored vehicles to the illegitimate government.”
The deployment of UCAVs in Libya is an unprecedented step by Turkey, that’s known for being a key ally of the GNA. This step leads to more tensions between Ankara and the LNA’s Arab backers.
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: The New Arab, Arab News, Asharq Al Awsat, Al Arabiya, DW, Address Libya, South Front, Daily Sabah]