Sirte has always been a frontline in Libya since the start of February revolution in 2011. Sirte is a strategic city on the coastline and a nearby neighbor to both Misrata and the oil crescent region. Near Sirte, moreover; lies Jufra or (Al-Jufra) where a very strategic airbase is located. These two cities, post-Haftar-aggression, have become the crux point of a new conflict of a new war and a bloody tale in Libya: a tale of two cities on the brink of an all-out war.
Red Lines: Drawn in Cairo, Ankara, Moscow and Tripoli
Losing western region positions and footholds to Libya’s Government of National Accord – in Tripoli, Al-Watiya and Tarhouna as well as on the coastline in Sorman, Sabratha and other cities, warlord Haftar has positioned his militias in the strategic area of Sirte and Jufra; overlooking the oil crescent and a gate to the eastern region.
However, his militias aren’t alone; they are accompanied by thousands of Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, Sudanese and other African mercenaries as well as Al-Assad-loyal Syrian mercenaries.
To keep all these militias safe and to keep the mercenaries working under the radar, there had to be some pressure on the GNA not to continue its liberation operations and enter Sirte and Jufra.
The pressure started by Russia and France through their Middle East funding machines and puppets: UAE and Egypt.
The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has threatened to intervene in Libya by sending military troops and by arming tribes to fight what he described as “terrorist militias”. El Sisi’s words came in a tour he made at the borders with Libya, speaking to Egyptian Army forces, in a stark shift of subject as Cairo is set to be deprived from water when Ethiopia is set to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
El Sisi said that Egypt regards Sirte and Jufra in central Libya as a red line and warned the GNA forces against crossing it, in what is seen as a flagrant intervention in Libyan domestic affairs.
The Libyan GNA and its Army command said that El Sisi’s words and red lines were a declaration of war and a flagrant encroachment on Libya’s sovereignty, saying military efforts are still ongoing to enter Sirte and Jufra and liberate them from the grip of multinational mercenaries under Haftar’s command.
Ankara weighed in on the two cities’ matter, saying Libya’s Government of National Accord will agree to a ceasefire only if warlord Haftar withdraws his militias and mercenaries from central and western regions, including Sirte and Jufra, the Turkish foreign minister said.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Mevlut Cavusoglu said the GNA is “determined” to resume its offensive against Haftar’s militias unless they withdrew from two strategic locations, port city of Sirte and home to an airbase; Jufra.
Cavusoglu pointed out that Russia presented a ceasefire offer during talks in Istanbul last month with a “concrete date and time.”
He said “when Ankara consulted with the GNA, the Libyan officials stated their preconditions on Sirte and Jufra and for Haftar’s forces to return to “lines” they held in 2015.”
Cavusoglu said that Ankara may support the offensive and the GNA’s preconditions for a ceasefire are “legitimate and reasonable.”
Mobilization and Deployment
The Sirte-Jufra Operations Room of the Government of National Accord said it had seen movements of retreat by the Russian Wagner Group mercenaries of warlord Haftar toward the eastern region.
The room added in a statement by the spokesman Abdelhadi Drah that there were also Sudanese mercenaries with the Russians pulling out toward eastern Libya.
Drah told Libya Alahrar TV that Russian Wagner Group and Sudanese Janjaweed mercenaries retreated from Sokna and Houn towns in the Jufra area eastward.
In the meantime, the Libyan Army under GNA’s command said Wednesday it had spotted the dispatch of military supplies from Egypt to the city of Tobruk in northeastern Libya – under Haftar’s control.
The new development came shortly after warlord Haftar said his forces were preparing for a “major battle” near the cities of Sirte and Jufra.
Photos published by the GNA-led Operation Volcano of Rage (Burkan Al-Ghadab) showed people in military uniform standing beside vehicles carrying weapons and military equipment.
Legalizing Egypt’s Intervention
Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament (House of Representatives) has called on Egypt to directly intervene in the country’s conflict to push back against what they said “Turkey’s support” for the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
The House of Representatives – based in Tobruk – warned that Egyptian support was needed to counter what it described as a Turkish intervention in the country.
In a resolution approved by the HoR, the MPs called on “Egyptian armed forces to intervene to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt if they see an imminent danger to both our countries”.
The new call underscores the growing stakes in Libya, where battle lines solidified earlier this month near the city of Sirte, after the GNA and Turkey drove warlord Haftar’s militias back from over a yearlong aggression on Tripoli.
US Exerting More Efforts, Now That Russia Is In
The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) indicated that it had clear evidence that Russian employed, state-sponsored Wagner Group laid landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in and around Tripoli, further violating the United Nations arms embargo and endangering the lives of innocent Libyans.
The US Africa Command remarked that verified photographic evidence showed indiscriminately placed booby-traps and minefields around the outskirts of Tripoli down to Sirte since mid-June, saying these weapons are assessed to have been introduced into Libya by the Wagner Group.
The director of operations at AFRICOM, Bradford Gering, said the Russian-state sponsored Wagner Group is demonstrating a total disregard for the safety and security of Libyans, adding that Wagner Group’s irresponsible tactics are prolonging conflict and are responsible for the needless suffering and the deaths of innocent civilians.
AFRICOM also remarked that Russia’s introduction of landmines, booby traps, attack aircraft, and their continued support of the 2000-person strong Wagner Group in Libya changes the nature of the current conflict and intensifies the potential risk to non-combatants.
Drums of War or Peace?
Warlord Haftar seems to have lost the Trump-call effect and even the CIA ties and American will to help him sell his fighting-terrorism rhetoric, yet he has won new allies with an eye on Libyan oil: Russia and of course, there has always been France, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
The mix of Haftar’s backers seems to suggest an imminent proxy war on the outskirts of the Libyan oil crescent region; thus also suggesting a collapse of the country’s resources and a difficult-to-recover-from lack of revenues for the Libyan country as a whole.
However, the mix of allies supporting the internationally recognized GNA, like the US and Turkey, would rather see issues resolved politically with conditions varying from first: Haftar and Russians’ departure from Sirte, Jufra and oil facilities toward eastern region, and second: exclusion of war criminals and Tripoli aggression backers from future political talks.