The newly elected Government of National Unity (GNU) in Libya is under a tremendous pressure to prepare the country for parliamentary and presidential elections by December; that is in less than seven months from today. According to the schedule assigned at the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in January, the general political and legislative system for the elections should be drafted and approved by parliament before the beginning of July. That is less than three months away. Yet, this difficult mission requires first healing the wounds of decade-long divisions that escalated from power vacuum and political chaos to terrorism and civil wars, that allowed the formation of armed militia and interference of foreign troops and mercenaries.
Today, there are more than three-hundreds armed militia groups in Libya, operated by tens of thousands of young Libyans, who had been children at the time of the Arab Spring revolution that overthrew the Gaddafi regime, ten years ago. That is in addition to tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries who were deployed by international and regional powers that intervened militarily in Libya, under various slogans and justifications, hiding their true greediness for Libya’s land and maritime energy resources. Removing the foreign mercenaries and dissolving militia is a must for the desired political change to take place.
Since he took office in March, GNU Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh has been remarkably active on international visits. The first countries he visited are the countries directly related to the situation in Libya and some of them have sponsored or commanded mercenaries in Libya. He visited Russia, Turkey, Emirates, and Egypt. The stable item on Dbeibeh’s agenda in all his foreign visits is the issue of removing mercenaries from Libya.
According to the UN-backed ceasefire agreement, signed in October, there are more than twenty-thousand foreign mercenaries in Libya. Most of them are from Syria and are operating under the command of the Turkish troops stationed in Tripoli, since December 2019, per a defense cooperation agreement signed between Turkey and Libya’s former Government of National Accord (GNA). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Turkey recruited more than eighteen thousand mercenaries. That is a huge number of Turkey-recruited mercenaries if compared to, for example, Russia’s mercenaries of about three-thousand fighters in the Wagner Group, who support the Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by General Haftar.
On the first week of U.S. Administration of Joseph Biden, inaugurated in January; Richard Mills, the Deputy of US mission to the UN, called upon Russia, Turkey, and the UAE to “respect Libyan sovereignty and immediately cease all military intervention in Libya.” According to the ceasefire agreement, all foreign troops and their fellow mercenaries were supposed to leave Libya, before the deadline of January 23rd. However, none of the aforementioned foreign powers chose to leave Libya on the given deadline. On the contrary, Turkey decided to extend its military presence in Libya for another year and a half.
However, in mid-March, Turkey showed unprecedented flexibility regarding Libya, in general, and the issue of mercenaries, in particular. That is perhaps part of Turkey’s plan to establish a new form of relations between Turkey and Libya, based on the broader and more comprehensive concept of diplomatic parity, rather than the military dependency that linked the two countries in the previous period. In late March, Turkey agreed with GNU to withdraw its mercenaries in batches, while it keeps providing the newly established Libyan military in Tripoli with training and advice. Within the framework of the military agreement signed between Turkey and GNA in 2019, Turkey established the first blocks of a Libyan military out of the militia members operating under the leadership of GNA. In December, Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar stated that “three thousand Libyans received training as part of the training, support, and consultancy agreement between Turkey and GNA.”
On the other hand, Russia does not seem ready yet to withdraw its forces and mercenaries from Libya. During his visit to Cairo last week, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, evaded answering a question presented by an Egyptian journalist about whether Russia would take practical steps to expel its mercenaries from Libya. Lavrov responded with an ambiguous diplomatic response in which he confirmed that his country respects the United Nations resolutions and the decisions resulting from the (5+5) military negotiations. A few days later, the Libyan Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh visited Russia and held talks with a number of officials, including the Russian Minister of Defense, in which he stressed the need to withdraw mercenaries and to consolidate military cooperation between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the latest UN Security Council resolution, issued on April 16th, came as a renewal for the international community's support for GNA in its difficult mission against foreign mercenaries and the domestic militia groups. UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution to support the political process in Libya, calling for immediate exit of all foreign military forces and mercenaries from Libya. UNSC, also, decided to deploy a team of sixty civilian commissioners to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the conflicting factions in Libya.
However, despite all of this international support to expelling foreign troops and mercenaries out of Libya, achieving this on the ground may be impossible to happen within the next seven months, before the scheduled date for elections. Removing mercenaries and foreign interventions is necessary for Libya to be able to proceed with the political solution for its decade-long division. That sounds like a miracle.