Libya crisis timeline: The battle for Tripoli, Sirte, and oil from November to today
Libya has been wracked by civil war for nearly a decade following the overthrow of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
As warring factions, including the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA), vie for influence, foreign influence has grown in the country, with the agreement signed by Turkey and the GNA for Mediterranean gas assets paving the way for greater interference.
Turkey has stepped up its support for the Tripoli-based GNA, which formed in 2015 and is led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and has sent weapons, troops, and thousands of Syrian mercenaries to the North African country. There are several potential factors driving Turkey's ongoing interference in Libya, with experts suggesting that it may be a move to secure the country’s rich hydrocarbon assets. Qatar, closely aligned with Turkey, has also sent military aid to the GNA.
To the east, the Benghazi-based LNA is led by General Khalifa Haftar and a broad coalition of international players have begun to form, including France, Egypt, the UAE and Russia.
Turkey’s intervention in Libya in May changed the course of the war in favor of the GNA, which had been under siege in the capital Tripoli by the LNA.
The GNA has been poised to attack Sirte and Jufra in central Libya, but has not begun a forward offensive. Both sides have vowed to control the strategic center of the country, with Egypt and its allied LNA describing it as a “red line” that would prompt escalation.
As a powder keg of international players deepen their involvement, here is a timeline of events in the war-torn country from November until today, based on Al Arabiya English’s coverage:
Turkey and the GNA sign a controversial agreement on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea as well as a deal on expanded security and military cooperation.
The deal came after European Union ministers had agreed to put economic sanctions on Turkey for drilling off the coast of Cyprus, a violation of a maritime economic zone, causing tensions between Turkey and Greece to flare, leaving Turkey searching for regional allies.
Turkey and Libya begin joint exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean, despite international condemnation.
“With this new agreement between Turkey and Libya, we can hold joint exploration operations in these exclusive economic zones that we determined. There is no problem,” Erdogan said at the time.
“Other international actors cannot carry out exploration operations in these areas Turkey drew (up) with this accord without getting permission. Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel cannot establish a gas transmission line without first getting permission from Turkey,” he said.
Turkey submits the maritime memorandum of understanding it signed with the GNA to the United Nations for registration. Greece had asked that the UN condemn the deal.
Meanwhile, General Khalifa Haftar orders LNA forces to begin advancing toward Tripoli, declaring a final and decisive battle and says that gunmen in the capital city will be provided safety if they lay down their weapons. This move comes after Haftar’s forces began their assault on Tripoli in April and the city has been the focal point of months of fierce fighting.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said a comprehensive political solution is needed and will be achieved in the coming months that would put an end to a “terrorist hotbed that pushes militants and weapons to (Libya’s) neighboring countries including Egypt.”
On the same day, Turkey sends a bilateral deal to parliament that includes provisions for launching a military “quick reaction force” if requested by Tripoli.
Erdogan announces that he will send troops to Libya, adding that the GNA requested Turkey’s assistance in its fight against the LNA. Previously, Turkey had limited its support to supplying military equipment, including tanks and drones.
The LNA announces on Facebook that it now controls Tripoli’s airport, the oil tanks, and the Naqliya military camp after it pushed back the GNA’s militias. The GNA relies on more than a dozen militias formed during and after the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi.
The speaker of the eastern-based Parliament Aguila Saleh urges Cyprus to withdraw its recognition of the Tripoli-based GNA and says Turkey’s willingness to send troops to Libya is “unacceptable.”
On New Year’s Day, the Arab Leagues calls for efforts to prevent foreign interference in Libya following Turkey’s recent growing involvement in the country.
Turkey’s parliament authorizes sending troops to Libya to support the Tripoli-based GNA which had lost territory to the LNA.
In response, the Libyan parliament votes unanimously to cut ties with Turkey and close related embassies.
Turkish military forces enter Libya.
General Haftar captures the strategic coastal city of Sirte. Egypt announces it will hold a meeting with foreign ministers from France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus about developments in Libya, namely Turkey’s decision to send troops.
Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers, chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, reiterates the Kingdom’s call for action to achieve regional security and stability and prevent any situation that could lead to heightened tensions in the Middle East.
France, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus declare “null and void” the controversial maritime and military agreements signed in November between Ankara and the GNA, which Turkey had already begun using to drill for hydrocarbons.
The GNA agrees to a ceasefire urged by Moscow and Turkey. The LNA also announces a cessation of hostilities.
LNA General Haftar arrives in Moscow for talks between the warring factions. In Moscow, Sarraj calls on Libyans to “turn the page on the past” as he prepared to sign the ceasefire that was to pave the way for the revival of the political process.
General Haftar leaves Moscow without signing the peace deal, saying he needs more time to review the deal. Both sides accuse the other of not upholding the ceasefire.
Haftar informs Russia of a number of conditions to end nine months of fighting in the country, including a time limit of 45 to 90 days for armed militias to fully surrender their weapons. He also asks for the establishment of a committee made up of LNA representatives alongside the UN to collect militia weapons, provided that the work is fully under the control of the Libyan armed forces. Finally, the LNA commander refuses that Turkey play a mediating role in the conflict.
Al Arabiya reports that Turkey is training Syrian factions to fight in Libya and that Syrians holding Turkish citizenship are leading the militant factions in Libya. Some of these militants have extensive experience, having fought alongside the Turkish army in Syria, while others participated in military training inside Turkey.
Libyan state oil firm National Oil Corporation (NOC) declares force majeure, allowing for the legal suspension of delivery contracts on oil exports from the eastern ports of Brega, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina and Es Sider. The NOC said forces loyal to General Haftar had ordered the closure of the oil ports, which will result in loss of 800,000 barrels per day in oil output.
Control of Libya’s oil continues to be a major point throughout the conflict, with funds from oil prior to the shutdown previously being used by the GNA to buy weapons.
Talks in Berlin under United Nations auspices begin, with leaders from Turkey, Russia and France present. The focus of the summit is securing a lasting ceasefire to restart talks.
Production halts at Libya’s largest oil field, the Sharara field, after armed forces shut down a pipeline.
Libya’s Azzawiya Oil Refining Company, a subsidy of NOC, says it was forced to stop refining operations due to a lack of crude supplies and no inventory. Libya’s oil production had dropped to 181,576 bpd from about 1.2 million bpd before the stoppage.
Members of the UN Security Council pass and adopt a resolution calling for a “lasting ceasefire.” The text, drafted by Britain, was approved by 14 votes out of 15, with Russia abstaining, and would include a monitoring system, a separation of forces and confidence-building measures.
LNA and GNA forces clash in Tripoli, and flights at Mitiga airport in the city are suspended again.
A Turkish cargo ship carrying ammunition and weapons coming from Turkey is targeted by the LNA at the Tripoli port, Al Arabiya reported.
Erdogan confirms suspicions that pro-Turkish Syrian fighters are present in Libya alongside Turkey’s training personnel. “Turkey is there with a training force. There are also people from the Syrian National Army,” Erdogan told reporters at the time.
Al-Sarraj declares a night-time curfew and public spaces to close as the coronavirus begins to spread through the Middle East.
Libya confirms its first coronavirus case. The country’s health care infrastructure is extremely vulnerable from years of fighting. At this point both factions have imposed lockdowns, but despite a ceasefire, fighting continues.
Read more: Libyan health facilities under attack as coronavirus threat looms
US President Donald Trump and Erdogan agree on a phone call that ceasefires are needed in Syria and in Libya. A White House statement at the time said the two heads of state “agreed it is more important now than ever for countries in conflict, particularly Syria and Libya, to adhere to ceasefires and work toward resolution.”
The German, French, Italian, and the EU’s top diplomat call for a humanitarian truce in Libya, saying all sides should resume peace talks.
The BBC reports that Turkey sent military tanks and weapons into Libya via the Mediterranean just days after agreeing to a UN arms embargo on the country. Satellite images published by the BBC showed three Turkish ships, with one called the BANA being escorted by two G-Class frigates heading to Libya.
The GNA rejects a truce that was unilaterally called by Haftar for Ramadan. In a statement, the GNA says it will continue in its “legitimate defense,” attacking “any threat where it exists and putting an end to outlaw groups.”
Al-Sarraj calls for a renewal of UN-brokered talks to end divisions in Libya. “This call comes as state institutions are increasingly divided, and some officials in these institutions have individually made decisions that exceeded their role and their authority,” Sarraj said at the time.
Turkey steps up its Libyan rhetoric, with the foreign ministry warning that it will deem Haftar’s forces legitimate targets if their attacks on its interests and diplomatic missions in Libya continue.
GNA forces capture the strategic al-Watiya air base from LNA fighters. The air base is around 125 kilometers southwest of the capital Tripoli and had been an important strategic foothold for Haftar’s forces.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges the GNA to agree to a ceasefire and criticizes the flow of weapons into Libya.
The LNA announces that it has captured 12 Syrian fighters in Tripoli. The Facebook announcement came after General Haftar declared that every Turkish fighter who “stepped on Libyan territory” or any mercenary sent by Turkey would be a “legitimate target,” during a broadcast speech on Saturday, Al Arabiya English reported at the time.
ISIS claims it was behind an attack in Taraghin, a small town in the south of Libya.
Moscow denies US claims it had sent military personnel and fighter aircraft to Libya in support of eastern forces.
The LNA announces that it has fully captured the western Libyan town of al-Asaba. The GNA had reportedly taken the town situated around 100 kilometers southwest of Tripoli on May 21. Meanwhile, LNA Brigade General Khalid al-Mahjoub says that Turkey is continuing to send weapons and mercenaries to the GNA.
A Turkish warship refuses to allow a Greek navy ship, working for the European Union’s new naval mission Operation Irini tasked with enforcing the Libya arms embargo, to check a freighter off Libya’s coast.
Since it began its intervention, Turkey had sent 13,000 Syrian mercenaries to Libya, and 300 have been killed, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Al Arabiya English.
France accuses Turkey of violating the UN arms embargo and condemns Turkey’s “aggressive” intervention in Libya. The Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias also says that Turkey’s military interference in Libya violates international resolutions.
Looking toward a lasting Turkish presence in the south Mediterranean, Turkey and the GNA discuss possible Turkish use of two military bases, the Misrata naval base and the al-Watiya air base, in Libya.
Turkish government officials, including the foreign and finance ministers, arrive in Tripoli to continue discussion over Turkey’s use of the military bases.
Turkey criticizes the EU’s Operation Irini, saying it is “not objective” following NATO’s decision to probe an earlier incident where a French ship from Operation Irini had been subject to radar targeting by Turkish frigates while trying to inspect a cargo vessel believed to be carrying arms to Libya.
Turkey tells Haftar that his forces need to withdraw from the strategic city of Sirte to ensure a lasting ceasefire can be implemented and accuses France of jeopardizing NATO security.
Egyptian President Abel Fattah al-Sisi says his country has a legitimate right to intervene in neighboring Libya, and that he has ordered the army to stand ready to carry out any mission outside the country, if necessary.
LNA’s al-Mahjoub tells Al Arabiya that the Haftar-led forces will not leave Sirte “no matter the sacrifices.” A key coastal city, Sirte is close to major energy export terminals.
Egypt had previously declared that Sirte is a “red line” for Cairo, as it announces more support for the LNA.
Turkey responds to French criticism of its actions in Libya, saying, “France has a major responsibility for Libya being dragged into chaos by supporting illegal structures there for years, and therefore, it is actually France which is playing a dangerous game in Libya.”
The United Arab Emirates comes out in support of France in a statement from Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on Twitter. The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdulla bin Zayed says Turkey’s “current role in the Arab region is not welcome.”
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The LNA is fighting against terrorism and “Turkish colonization” in Libya, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari says. The same day, Russia and France call for a ceasefire in Libya and a return to dialogue.
As tensions mount, French President Emmanuel Macron accuses Turkey of “criminal responsibility” over its involvement in Libya. Meanwhile, Turkey hits back, saying France’s approach in the conflict has been “destructive” and seeks to increase Russian presence there.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias calls on all foreign powers, especially Turkey, to leave Libya. Greece condemned the controversial maritime agreement between Turkey and the GNA.
The US says it will maintain a policy of “active neutrality” on Libya. “The US delegation stressed its opposition to all foreign interference in Libya and discussed the imperative of an immediate ceasefire and return to UN-facilitated security and political negotiations,” the statement read, revealing that a virtual meeting was held between US officials and LNA representatives on July 1.
Turkey’s defense minister and military chief sign a military agreement with the battalions fighting on behalf of the GNA, which currently controls Tripoli, to ensure Ankara’s interests in Libya. The military agreement guarantees protection of Turkey’s interests in Libya and allows for Ankara’s direct intervention.
The al-Watiya air base, recently recaptured by the GNA, comes under attack during an overnight raid. Meanwhile, oil exports continue to fall compared to June.
Libyans in Benghazi protest against Turkey’s intervention in their country, chanting against “occupation.”
Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) lifts force majeure at Es Sider oil port, as the first tanker at the port is loaded after a half-year-long blockade by eastern forces. Meanwhile, speaker of Libya's eastern-based parliament Aguila Saleh Issa arrives in Geneva for discussions on how to resume the ceasefire talks.
Haftar’s spokesman, Ahmed al-Mosmari calls for oil revenues to flow into a bank account in a foreign country with a “clear mechanism” to distribute funds fairly among Libya’s regions. He did not name a country to host the account. On the same day, the LNA says it will maintain the closure of oil fields and ports until such a mechanism is put in place. Meanwhile, the GGNA says it will only agree to a ceasefire if the LNA withdraws from Sirte and Jufra, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu tells the Financial Times.
Al Arabiya English's Tommy Hilton contributed to this report.
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