Rumors emerged on Sunday of Egyptian armed forces heading to the Libya border. With the Egyptian-backed Libyan National Army being pushed back by the Turkish-backed Government of the National Accord outside Sirte, it appeared Egypt might need to intervene to help salvage a setback.
While the LNA had been on the verge of capturing Tripoli months ago, now Turkish drones, ships and electronic warfare, with thousands of Syrian mercenaries, have pushed the LNA back. Its leader Khalifa Haftar went to Egypt to meet Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi over the weekend. Sisi says a ceasefire must be pushed in Libya.
Al-Ahram media in Egypt and Al-Ain in the Gulf are pushing the ceasefire. But Cairo is reticent to send its army the way Turkey has been willing to do. Egypt has a powerful army but is fighting in Sinai and has not sent troops into a foreign country in a major operation for decades. It is not clear how Egyptian forces would perform in the Libyan desert.
But Egypt has shown that it was willing to act in the past to make the border secure to fight extremists in Libya. Years ago, Egypt said thousands of terrorists were trying to cross from Libya. Haftar has been the Egyptian answer to that chaos. Backed by the UAE, Russia and others, The LNA leader took over most of Libya in recent years. But Turkey despises the Egyptian regime and moved into Libya to secure energy rights. Now Turkish drones and expertise are helping the GNA forces.
The big battle is for Sirte and an airfield at Jufra. The fast moving battles for Libya are reminiscent of the desert campaign of the 1940s when the German general Erwin Rommel faced off against the British.
The see-saw battle still lacks clarity. It is fought with “technicals” or trucks with mounted machine guns and drones. Haftar gets his drones from the UAE. They are Chinese-made.
Turkey sends its Bayraktar TB2 drones with MAM missiles to the GNA. The two now duel over the skies of Libya. Iran may have sent anti-tank missiles. Turkey has supplied its weaponry as well. Russian air defense systems, called Pantsir, have failed to stop the Turkish drones. Rumors of Russian mercenaries, and Turkish ships lurking off the coast, stir the media’s attention in Libya.
But much is not known about Haftar’s retreat from Tripoli or secret deals behind the scenes. The US embassy in Libya, which has not done much in the country since US ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered in 2012, has suddenly tweeted about the need to include both sides in the conflict. France and Berlin are also involved. Greece wants to work with Egypt.
The whole of the Middle East holds its breath now – as Egypt’s tanks sit on their trucks waiting to be offloaded – to see if Egypt is willing to put its boots on the ground to guarantee the ceasefire it wants.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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