The conflict in oil-rich Libya has now widened to directly include Turkey, with General Khalifa Haftar launching an air strike on a Turkish drone and then seeking to calm the situation by reportedly releasing six Turkish sailors held captive.
Libya has been a proxy war venue between many external forces since Haftar launched his offensive to seize Tripoli from the hands of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) earlier this year.
But this week was the first time the proxy actors in this conflict have been directly targeted.
Last week, Haftar ordered his forces to target Turkish companies and arrest Turkish nationals after the country played a key role in re-taking a strategic town from Haftar.
Turkey responded by threatening Haftar with directly targeted attacks.
On Monday, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials, who denied that the detained sailors were military personnel, said the six in question had been released.
"The sailors are free. According to their wishes, they continue to work," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Agence France Presse.
The ministry did not give details about when the six were first held.
On Sunday, Haftar’s LNA stated that its “fighter [jets] targeted and destroyed a Turkish Bayraktar aircraft as it was taking off,” adding that the “aircraft had been prepared to target our armed forces’ positions”. The drone was parked at Mitiga International Airport.
The LNA also said it had arrested two Turks in the oil town of Ajdabiya.
Haftar’s push against the Turks follows the loss last week of Gharyan, a strategic town serving as a forward base for the LNA in the offensive against Tripoli. Turkey backed this operation specifically.
On Monday morning, LNA Commander Mohamed Manfour announced a new stage in the offensive against Tripoli, shifting to aerial bombardment, noting that “traditional means” had been exhausted, Aljazeera (a Qatari-run media outlet) reported.
This conflict has taken on significantly greater regional context with Turkey’s direct involvement. Turkey and Qatar are supporting the GNA, while the UAE and Egypt, most notably, have been supporting Haftar, including with military equipment in the case of the UAE.
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com
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