Why Haftar Blocked Algeria-Libya Border?

General Khalifa Haftar
General Khalifa Haftar

Dalia Ziada

On the morning of June 20th, the Libyan National Army (LNA) announced that its troops moved to the southwestern area to close the border area between Libya and Algeria. LNA declared the border area as a military zone in which movement is prohibited.

In immediate reaction to LNA’s unilateral move, the Presidential Council, in Tripoli, issued an official statement prohibiting the movement of military troops, whatever their affiliation is, without direct instructions from the central military command in Tripoli. “The re-positioning or movement of military troops can only happen in accordance with the applicable context and with the approval of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces,” the statement firmly warned.

LNA is commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, who operates from Benghazi, eastern Libya. Haftar is, currently, backed by France and Russia. He commands Libyan military personnel, as well as African mercenaries and other mercenaries affiliated to the Russian Wagner group. Despite Haftar’s initial endorsement to the Government of National Unity (GNU), after being elected in January, the LNA does not coordinate its operations with the GNU’s central armed forces.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Aka (2nd R) and other top Turkish military commanders greet Libyan commanders, in Tripoli, Libya, Dec. 26, 2020. (AP Photo)

The GNU-commanded military, in Tripoli, is currently the official national armed forces in Libya. It is a relatively new military, formed from middle-age officers in western Libya, and some Libyan militia, who were operating under the command of the previous Government of National Accord (GNA). The Turkish armed forces helped GNA form this military, based on a military agreement signed in December 2019. Since then, Turkish military has been providing the Libyan military with training, consultancy, and equipment. GNU military forces work side by side with the Turkish military troops, of about 2000 military personnel, deployed in Tripoli, since 2019. Both Turkish and Libyan troops, in Tripoli, are operating under the direct supervision of the Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar. In addition, Turkey owns about 15 thousand mercenaries inside Libya.

On June 13th, Hulusi Akar visited his troops in Tripoli, and made strong statements against LNA and Haftar. Akar said that Haftar is the main problem for Libya, and accused LNA of the mass killing of Libyans, in Tarhuna and other cities. As expected, the LNA and other politicians in Benghazi got offended by Akar’s visit and statements. In a video statement, LNA spokesperson accused Akar of bringing illegal weapons with him, on his private plane, during this recent visit. He also accused Turkey of disturbing Libya’s stability and halting the scheduled elections, in December.

the Algerian President, Abdelmajid Tebboune

Some justify the surprise positioning of LNA troops at the Libya-Algeria border as a retaliation by Haftar to the recent statements by the Algerian President, Abdelmajid Tebboune. On a rare interview with Aljazeera TV, last week, Tebboune reiterated that Tripoli constitutes a “red-line” for Algeria, which was “ready to intervene” to prevent the fall of the Libyan capital in the hands of Haftar, in 2019. However, LNA has been moving its troops to the southwestern area, a while before the broadcast of Tebboune’s interview. LNA spokesperson stated previously that their troops are determined to fight against the terrorist elements leaking into the southwestern of Libya from Algeria and Chad.

Nevertheless, Haftar’s move to block the border between Algeria and Libya, at the time being, is meant to give a message to the GNU, Turkey, and other regional and international players participating in the Berlin II Conference on Libya, on June 23rd. Haftar is simply trying to tell everyone that he and his LNA should not be ignored or marginalized in any future plans, they set for Libya.

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