Thursday, June 17, 2021

French plan to remove all mercenaries from Libya


Jun 17, 2021. Greece.

France has pitched the U.S. and others on a plan to remove foreign fighters from Libya, a country rocked by civil war in recent years.

The plan — seen by POLITICO — lays out a six-month timeline that proposes first withdrawing Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, followed by Russian-backed mercenaries and regular Turkish troops.

The two-page proposal has been circulating for several weeks among diplomatic officials with the involved countries, according to two officials familiar with the talks.

And in recent days, the officials said, French President Emmanuel Macron has put the idea directly to his counterparts in the U.S. and Turkey. Macron discussed the plan with U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday at the G7 gathering of wealthy democracies in England, before raising it with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday at the NATO summit in Brussels.

The ultimate goal is to further stabilize a country on the EU’s southern border, which has created migration challenges and terrorism risks for Europe. The major players have been trying to cement a civil war cease-fire reached last October between the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, and Khalifa Haftar, the general commander of the Libyan National Army.

In March, Libya established a national unity government recognized by all major players in the civil war. But its position remains precarious ahead of an election in December — Haftar retains a significant military backing and Turkish- and Russian-backed fighters still linger in the country. Compounding those challenges is the fact that Turkey and Russia entered the war on opposing sides — Turkey behind the Tripoli government and Russia behind Haftar.

The idea behind Macron’s plan seems to be to tap into America’s heft and use that as leverage to pressure Turkey and Russia into withdrawing their affiliated forces. It’s a tactical shift for Macron, adopting a more collective approach that could end up offering a foreign policy win to someone else — Joe Biden.

Under Macron’s plan, Turkey would first withdraw the Syrian mercenaries it sent to Libya in 2020, when the Tripoli government sought help in fending off a siege from Haftar’s forces. Such a step could take place as soon as July 1.

The second phase would see both Russia pull out its Wagner Group private militias and Turkey withdraw its own soldiers. The step, proposed for September, could be more challenging, given that it equates Turkish troops, which were invited into the country by an internationally recognized government, and the Russia-linked private militias there illegally.

The third phase proposes to reunify Libya’s divided security forces, currently split between those who defended the Tripoli government and those fighting for Haftar. Ostensibly, this step would leave Haftar’s Libyan National Army as the predominant group.

That fact could make it a hard sell to those backing Tripoli. The outcome could also be seen as a reward for Haftar’s failed siege on Tripoli, and risks reinforcing the perception that France is too close to Haftar, who has been the country’s partner of choice in its fight against the Islamic State and jihadist groups in the area.