Six Turkish citizens were released by Libyan forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar on Monday, following Haftar’s declaration that all Turkish citizens and assets in the country are Libyan National Army targets – and an equally forceful message from Turkey that warned of retaliation.
Turkey’s ministry of foreign affairs called the temporary detention of six sailors believed to be working in Libya “an act of banditry and piracy” perpetrated by Haftar’s “illegal militia.”
“We expect our citizens to be released immediately. Otherwise, Haftar elements will become legitimate targets,” the ministry said in its statement.
Meanwhile, the LNA said the presence of Turkish nationals was an “invasion of Libyan territory.” The LNA’s elevated hostility toward Ankara followed the loss last week of Gharyan, a town Haftar has used as an operations base in the offensive to take Tripoli.
Haftar appeared to blame that setback on Turkey, and again accused Ankara of assisting the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and aligned militia fighters resisting the LNA.
Haftar’s announcement early Saturday said all Turkish interests on Libyan soil are to be considered enemy targets. He “issued orders to the ground forces to target all Turkish strategic targets such as companies, headquarters and projects belonging to the Turkish government,” said the LNA spokesman. “They are all considered legitimate targets to the Libyan Armed Forces in response to this aggression.”
Flights to and from Turkey were suspended, and any Turkish nationals will be arrested, the LNA said. While Haftar controls the eastern and southern portions of Libya, it is not clear how the LNA would enforce the declaration in areas held by the GNA, led by Fayez Al-Sarraj and based in Tripoli.
Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli and the GNA began on April 4 when he said he was moving against the terrorist militias operating in the region. At least 739 people including 41 civilians have been killed in the fighting, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 100,000 people displaced.
Haftar’s stance on Turkey deepens the proxy-war concerns as regional tensions escalate, with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia all supporting the LNA and aligning against Turkey and Qatar. Weapons from the UAE, originally sold by the United States a decade ago, were found in Gharyan when LNA soldiers fled, the GNA said.
Image: LNA file