Turkish military intervention in the Second Libyan Civil War

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Turkish military intervention in the Second Libyan Civil War
Part of the Second Libyan Civil War, and the 2020 East Mediterranean crisis
Libyan Civil War January 2020.svg

Libyan Civil War.svg
Top: Territorial map of the Libyan Civil War in January 2020

Bottom: Current territorial map of the Libyan Civil War
  Under the control of the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army
  Under the control of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and different militias forming the Libya Shield Force
  Controlled by local forces
DateMain combat phase:
5 January 2020 (2020-01-05) – 24 October 2020[11]
(1 year, 4 months and 4 days)
Status Ceasefire
Syrian opposition Syrian Interim Government
In support of:
Libya Government of National Accord
Supported by:
Libya House of Representatives
Russia Wagner Group
Commanders and leaders
Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkey Hulusi Akar
Turkey Hakan Fidan
Libya Fayez al-Sarraj
Libya Khalifa Haftar
Libya Aguila Saleh Issa
Libya Unknown
Syrian opposition 18,000 (Peak)[12]
Turkey 50 advisors[13]
Libya unknown
Russia 3,000 Wagner Group[14]
Syria 4,000 (peak)[14][15]
Casualties and losses

Turkey 3 killed[16][17]
Syrian opposition 496 killed[18]
27 captured,[19]
400+ deserted[20]

Syrian opposition 500 killed (per LNA)[21]
Turkey 27 killed (per LNA)[22][23][24]
Libya 100 killed (per Turkey, as of February 2020)[25]
Syria 8 killed[26][27]

The Turkish military intervention in the Second Libyan Civil War is a military intervention by Turkey in support of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya in the Second Libyan Civil War. Military intervention was approved by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 2 January 2020, which passed a one-year mandate to deploy troops to Libya.[28] Turkish military deployments to Libya began on 5 January.[29]

Direct Turkish support for the Government of National Accord usually involves on-the-ground advisers providing training and operational support, air support through unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs),[30] intelligence operatives[31] and support from Turkish Navy vessels for Libyan ground forces.[32] In addition to its own troop and equipment deployments, Turkey was hiring and transporting Syrian mercenaries from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army to support and bolster the manpower of the GNA since December 2019.[33][34]

The Turkish military intervention in Libya is mainly interpreted as an attempt to secure access to resources and maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean as part of its Blue Homeland Doctrine (Turkish: Mavi Vatan), especially following the ratification of the Libya–Turkey maritime deal. Secondary Turkish objectives are believed to include countering Egyptian and Emirati influence in the Middle East and North Africa[35] Turkish involvement has also led to disputes with Greece and Cyprus.[36]


Following the approval of the one-year mandate to send troops to Libya, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that Turkish forces had begun to be deployed in the country on 5 January.[29] According to Al-Arabiya, MİT intelligence operatives were the first Turkish assets to arrive in Libya.[37] The LNA claimed to have bombed a Turkish cargo vessel which had been carrying supplies for Turkish-backed forces on 19 February during rocket strikes on the Port of Tripoli, although the Turkish government denied there having been any Turkish cargo ships at the port.[38] On 25 February, President Erdoğan confirmed two Turkish soldiers had been killed in Libya.[16] He also stated that 100 pro-LNA fighters had been killed in retaliation.[25]

Operation Peace Storm[edit]

GNA Prime Minister Sarraj announced Operation Peace Storm on 25 March,[39] with Turkish drones and intelligence providing significant backing to the operation.[40][41] On 1 April, a Turkish Navy frigate fired a surface-to-air missile at a LNA drone which had got close to it, which landed in Ajaylat.[42][43] With the support of Turkish drones, GNA forces seized recaptured the coastal towns of Sorman, Sabratha, Ajaylat, Aljmail, Regdalin, Zaltan, and Al Assah on 13 April and successfully re-connected GNA-controlled territory with the Tunisian border. Turkish strikes reportedly caused heavy casualties for forces in the area and destroyed military vehicles that had been provided to pro-Haftar forces by the United Arab Emirates.[44]

In May 2020, Turkish drones reportedly destroyed three Pantsir-S1 systems[45] alongside six others which were destroyed by GNA aircraft and drones.[46]

By 6 June, the GNA had successfully ousted Haftar's forces from the entirety of Tripoli and captured the LNA stronghold of Tarhouna with Turkey's support, considered a significant factor in turning the offensive in the GNA's favour.[47]

However, by the end of June, Egypt (the backer of Haftar) warned Turkey and the GNA of military intervention as the GNA attacked Sirte. The GNA government denounced the warning, and called it a declaration of war.[48][49]

Central Libya clashes[edit]

On 4 July, unidentified non-Libyan warplanes targeted Al-Watiya Air Base. The airstrikes destroyed GNA military equiptement brought by Turkey, including three MIM-23 Hawk air defense systems and one KORAL Electronic Warfare System stationed in the base. The Defense Ministry of Turkey acknowledged that the strikes damaged some of their defense systems.[50] Turkish officials said that no-one was killed in the attack and vowed retribution, indicating the attack could have been perpetrated by Emirati Dassault Mirage aircraft.[51]

On 21 August, the GNA and the LNA both declared a ceasefire.[52]

Involvement of Syrian and other foreign mercenaries[edit]

The Turkish government first began sending mercenaries hired from the Syrian National Army (SNA) in December 2019, initially sending 300 fighters.[34] As of September 2020, 18,000 Syrian fighters have been sent to Libya, including 350 underage children,[53] and 471 have been killed (34 of whom are alleged to be children).[54] According to some sources, the demographic composition of the fighters are mostly Syrian Turkmen, although the SNA is mostly Arab.[55][56]

The SOHR claimed that least 50 Syrian fighters were identified as former fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),[57] that Turkish intelligence also transferred more than 2,500 Tunisian ISIL foreign fightersto Libya to fight alongside the Turkish-backed militias of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA),[58] from nearly 10,000 jihadist fighters[59] The US State Department rejected the allegations, stating: "Despite widespread reports of the fighters' extremist links, the U.S. military found no evidence to suggest the mercenaries were affiliated with the Islamic State extremist group or al-Qaida"[60]

On 12 April 2020, the LNA claimed to have captured a Turkish-hired mercenary affiliated with the Rojava Peshmerga[61][62] but the Kurdistan Democratic Party denied the fighter was affiliated with the group.[63]

In July 2020, Al Arabiyah reported that Turkey sent Syrian, Tunisian, Egyptian and Sudanese mercenaries into Libya with planes.[64]

Incidents with Operation Irini[edit]

Turkey has prevented warships from Germany, France and Greece which participated in the EU Operation Irini and the NATO Operation Sea Guardian to inspect Turkish vessels which were suspected of carrying illegal arms to Libya. One of the vessels (Çirkin) later found to have violated the UN arms embargo and the maritime company was sanctioned by the EU.[65]

In addition, the captain of the Lebanese-flagged cargo ship Bana was arrested in Italy. The vessel was accused of transferring arms and Turkish military personnel from Turkey to Libya in violation of the United Nations arms embargo, with the escort of the Turkish navy frigates. Moreover, French fighter jets from the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle spotted the delivery at Libya, while on a reconnaissance mission.[66][67][68][69][70]

A joint investigation of The Guardian, Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Stern, ARD and elDiario.es revealed regular flights of cargo planes, transferring arms and personnel, between Turkish and Libyan airports.[71]



  • House of Representatives - the Tobruk government, which as of late 2019 controlled the vast majority of Libyan territory as well as most of Libya's oil fields,[72] opposes the maritime deal signed between Turkey and Tripoli which extends Turkish maritime boundaries from the southwest Turkish coast to the coast of Derna and Tobruk.[73] On December 22, the Tobruk government's Libyan National Army seized a Turkish vessel that entered waters under its control,[74] but released it the next day.


Supranational organizations[edit]

  •  United Nations – The United Nations reported that Turkey is one of the countries that systematically violated the Libyan arms embargo.[75] In addition, in March 2021, in a new report UN accused some countries including Turkey of extensive and blatant violations. The report included photos, diagrams and maps in order to support the accusations.[76][77]
  •  European Union - the European Union rejected the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya, and jointly with foreign ministers of Italy, France, Germany and the UK, the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on January 7 for an immediate ceasefire in and around Tripoli.[78] On 21 September 2020, Council of the European Union imposed sanctions on the Turkish maritime company Avrasya Shipping which operates the Çirkin freighter, because the vessel found to have violated the UN arms embargo in Libya in May and June 2020.[65]
  •  NATO - NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg said "that NATO fully supports the work of the United Nations to find a political solution to the crisis and he urged all parties in Libya and members of the international community to support the UN-led process. It was important that all parties respect the UN arms embargo."[79]


  •  Egypt - The Egyptian government, an ally of the Tobruk government, denounced the Turkish-GNA maritime and military deal,[80] foreign minister Sameh Shoukry blasting it as "illegal" in a joint statement on December 5 with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.[81] Egypt's parliament approved a bill for the deployment of its army to Libya in the name of national security and fighting terrorists.[82]
  •  Tunisia - Tunisia rejected the request of Turkey to use its territory for military shipments, but continues to support Government of National Accord (GNA).[83][84][85]
  •  Greece - Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador from Athens, sent two letters of protest to the United Nations over the Libya–Turkey maritime deal, which Greece viewed as infringing on its own sovereignty and endangering regional stability.[86]
  •  Cyprus - The Cypriot government denounced the Libya–Turkey maritime deal, and tried to rally other countries in the region to oppose its maritime borders aspect.[87]
  •  Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry condemned “the recent Turkish escalation in Libya.” The statement added that “The kingdom affirms that this Turkish escalation poses a threat to the security and stability in Libya and a threat to Arab and regional security, as it is an interference in the internal affairs of an Arab country in flagrant violation of international principles and covenants.”[88]
  •  Israel - Acting foreign minister Israel Katz announced Israel's opposition to the maritime border accord between Ankara and Tripoli, and confirmed that the deal was "illegal" according to the Israeli official position, while at the same time noting that Israel does not want a conflict with Turkey.[89] Earlier in the month, the Turkish navy had driven out an Israeli oceanographic research vessel that had been operating with the consent of the Cypriot government in Cypriot waters,.[90] This act, in the context of the deal with the GNA, led to Israeli fears that Turkey aimed to "create a sea border the width of the entire Mediterranean" and cut off Israeli access to international waters via the Mediterranean sea, the channel of 99% of Israeli exports.[91] Energy expert Brenda Schaffer interprets the EastMed pipeline between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece (forecasted to be able to cater to 10% of Europe's gas needs, and decrease reliance on Russia) as a joint attempt to exclude Turkey from the "Club Med" gas club,[73] but the decision to sign the deal was stated to be a response to the Turkish-Libyan deal.[92]
  •  France - French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced the deal between Ankara and Tripoli in a joint statement with Egypt's foreign minister.[81] President Emmanuel Macron said his country will not permit Turkey's armed interference in Libya and charged Ankara with playing "a dangerous game."[93]
  •  Iran - Iranian Foreign minister Javad Zarif said that Libya's sovereignty should be respected and added that "the two countries (ie. Turkey and Iran) shared common views on Libya".[94]
  •  Bahrain - Bahrain's foreign ministry denounced Turkey's decision to send military forces to Libya and opposed any foreign meddling in the domestic affairs of Libya. It added that the decision could hinder efforts to regain peace and security throughout Libya.[95]
  •  United Arab Emirates - The UAE condemned the decision by Turkey to dispatch its military forces to Libya as a blatant violation of international law. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement such a decision could hinder efforts to achieve stability in Libya and that "Such intervention will constitute a clear threat to Arab national security and will negatively impact stability in the Mediterranean."[96]

See also[edit]


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