Forces loyal to Libya's GNA supported by foreign mercenaries

Forces supporting the Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj are reportedly being bolstered by an array of militias, including criminal gangs and radical Islamist factions. 

LONDON - New evidence has emerged concerning the involvement of groups backed by Qatar and Turkey in the ongoing battle for Libya's capital Tripoli.

Libya has been riven by factional conflict since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with the country now broadly split between eastern-based forces under Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the UN-backed government in Tripoli, in the west, under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Forces supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Sarraj are reportedly being bolstered by an array of militias, including criminal gangs and radical Islamist factions. 

They are battling for control of Libya's capital city with the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Haftar, which launched an offensive earlier this month aiming to seize control of Tripoli and clear out radical Islamist factions from the city.

Libyan sources say that the pro-Sarraj forces are resorting to foreign mercenaries as the LNA makes steady progress towards the Tripoli city centre.

The Libyan sources say that these auxiliary groups are largely made up of mercenaries from Eritrea, Turkey and Ecuador who are being given logistical support by Ankara and Doha.

During the past two days, the sources said, the Libyan army was able to arrest a number of Turkish armed elements who were fighting alongside the Tripoli militias, in a development that seems to confirm the direct involvement of the Erdogan government in the Libyan conflict. Many of the passports of the Turkish elements were seized by LNA forces. 

A Turkish passport seized in Tripoli fighting.
A Turkish passport seized in Tripoli fighting

Major General Ahmad Mismari, spokesman for the LNA's General Command, said Thursday that it had detected dozens of terrorist fighters among Sarraj's forces.

He said foreign elements were fighting alongside the GNA’s forces in Tripoli, in addition to Islamic extremists brought in from the towns of Zuwara and Misrata.

Mismari said during his press conference that these elements came through Turkey.

He revealed that LNA forces had shot down an aircraft tasked with surveilling the positions of the LNA and providing information to the GNA forces.

The LNA spokesman revealed that the LNA forces discovered the wreckage of the Mirage F-1 fighter along with the airplane pilot's chair and a parachute.

He said they found a name tag which identified the pilot, who was fighting alongside the Tripoli militias, as an Ecuadorian named Boris Reyes.  

Mismari promised that in the coming hours he would make "devastating" announcements. He said that the LNA forces were making progress in Tripoli as the GNA forces "have continued to retreat inside their bases which have all come within range of the Libyan Army."

Reuters news agency reported Friday that the LNA was fighting inside southern Tripoli and holding the forward base of Gharyan, a town 80 km south of Tripoli.

Analysts have said that a de facto Turkish-Qatari axis is trying to help salvage Islamist interests in Libya by backing the Tripoli militias fighting for the GNA.

Haftar himself has previously called on the UN Security Council to condemn Turkey for violating the arms embargo that was imposed on Libya in 2011.

The new information concerning the make-up of forces allied to the GNA echoes the wider political context in the region, in which a bloc of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia are opposing Turkey and Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups.

Qatar was in 2017 placed under an economic, diplomatic and political boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, following years of souring relations. The Arab states accuse Doha of fomenting extremism and supporting their regional rival Iran.