Sirte waits at the edge of battle
- GNA moves its troops towards the city even as Egyptian lawmakers decide if they will directly intervene in Libya.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has been moving columns of troops from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards Sirte, the gateway into Khalifa Haftar-controlled, oil-rich eastern regions of the country. The GNA, riding on recent victories of having successfully repelled the Libyan National Army (LNA) from Tripoli, has said it will capture the strategically and psychologically important city of Sirte and the Al Jufra airbase. LNA has also been sending in fighters and weapons to shore up its battered defences in the city.
Haftar’s 14-month campaign to capture Tripoli ended in failure after Turkey sent in weapons and mercenaries from Syria to fight on behalf of the GNA, turning the tide of the war. Egypt, which backs the LNA, had tried to bring the parties to the negotiation table but it was clear that it couldn’t do that from vantage point of a retreating army. Recently its tone has become more aggressive and it has warned the GNA that it would not hesitate to intervene directly if any move was made to capture Sirte from Haftar.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi made the threat in June, following which the Tobruk-based parliament, which backs Haftar, had called on the neighbouring country to send in its troops if necessary to preserve the security and stability of the region and defeat the invaders, referring to Turkey. Last week, al-Sissi hosted dozens of tribal leaders loyal to Haftar in Cairo where he reiterated the threat of direct military intervention.
On Monday, Egyptian lawmakers prepared to cast a crucial vote that would authorise al-Sissi to do exactly that and with the House of Representatives packed with al-Sissi supporters, the motion is expected to be passed. Should this happen, it would potentially put into direct conflict two US allies – Turkey and Egypt. It would also further complicate matters in Libya which is already a battleground for a proxy war between various powers. Mercenaries sent in by Turkey and Qatar on one side and those from Russia, Egypt and the UAE on the other have been engaged in a drawn-out battle since the country was plunged into chaos in 2011 after the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gadaffi.
European countries like France, Italy and Germany, who are trying to unravel these foreign influences have said they would consider sanctions on those violating the arms embargo in Libya. Whether this would dissuade the nations involved in the muddled civil war, at the eve of this significant battle remains to be seen.