Turkey trains GNA militias as extremists flock to Tripoli

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The Libyan National Army (LNA) has released video footage of Turkish military trainers showing militia fighters in Tripoli how to operate Turkish armored personal carriers.

According to an official statement by the LNA information office, the footage was found on the phone of a captured Government of National Accord (GNA) fighter.

People can be heard speaking Turkish as a man directs GNA militia fighters how to “turn on the lights” and lift the protective screen for the windshield. It is not clear from the footage if the instructor is Turkish military or a private military instructor.

Turkish involvement in Libya has raised regional security concerns as it may prolong the war in Libya as the LNA, led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, battles daily to take Tripoli and, according to a recent interview in the French media, to “rid the capital of private militias and extremist groups.”

Pro-GNA Islamist militias in Tripoli, supported by Turkey, are also suspected of involvement in facilitating the movement of foreign extremists from Syria and Iraq into Libya. “The fight against Haftar has become an existential jihad from across the Islamic spectrum,” said Professor Jonathan Githens-Mazer of the University of Exeter.

Over the weekend, it emerged that Mohamed Ben Dardaf, also known as Babur, was killed fighting for a pro-GNA militia, which recently boasted of receiving Turkish military equipment. Ben Dardaf was a terrorist wanted by the Libyan Attorney General for his alleged role in the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens in a 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

One of the militias supported by Turkey is the al-Samoud Brigade led by Salah Badi, who was put on a UN sanctions list late last year for his involvement in violence in Tripoli. Earlier this month, a coalition loyal to Badi received a shipment of Turkish military equipment, boasting about it on its Facebook page. This week it emerged that Ben Dardaf had been fighting with the al-Samoud Brigade.

According to a US intelligence assessment acquired by Al Arabiya English, Syrian fighters from Idlib are fighting on the front line, alongside the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. The battle-hardened Syrian fighters, said to be formerly connected with the al-Nusra Front, which was associated with al-Qaeda, are reported to be “showing up in the low hundreds, maybe 150-200 in Libya.”

The US intelligence assessment was partially corroborated by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which said this week on Twitter that “there are real concerns from Libya becoming, once again, a theater attracting extremist elements and groups.” The UNSMIL statement came in response to a leaked letter from Libya’s UN envoy warning of Syrian fighters from Idlib appearing in Libya.

This week, photos also emerged of a well-known Ansar al-Sharia terrorist fighter from Benghazi called Adel al-Rabaie, who was thought to have been killed in 2017, showing him fighting alongside pro-GNA forces in Tripoli.

The discovery of the video footage of the GNA training follows reports from earlier this month of the delivery of up to 40 Turkish “hedgehog” armored personal vehicles to pro-GNA militias. Turkey on May 18 sent a large shipment of military equipment to Islamist militias controlling Tripoli and fighting the LNA, including the forces loyal to Badi.

The delivery of armored vehicles was advertised on the Facebook accounts of Tripoli militias along with photos of fresh crates of weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, high-powered sniper rifles, and ammunition. So far, the LNA said, it has destroyed at least 14 of the Turkish vehicles using Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles from pre-2011 Gaddafi-era stocks.

However, Haftar’s battle to take Tripoli has been slowed by Turkish support for the pro-GNA militias. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed “the urgent need to achieve a political solution in Libya and prevent further escalation” with Sameh Shoukry, the Foreign Minister of Egypt, which supports Haftar.

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