International

Turkey warns Libya’s Haftar against attacks on its forces

Turkey’s defense minister said the forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar would be viewed as a “legitimate target” if they attacked Turkish troops in the area.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned that any attempt by Khalifa Haftar and his personnel to attack Turkish forces in Libya would be met with force.

“A war criminal, murderer Haftar and his supporters must know that they will be seen as a legitimate target in case of any attack on Turkish forces,” Hulisi said in remarks to Turkish troops in Tripoli late Saturday that were made available to media on Sunday.

“If they take such a step, they will be unable to find any place to flee to,” he added, referring to Haftar’s forces. “Everyone should come to their senses.”

Turkey backs Tripoli-based leadership

NATO member Turkey, along with Qatar, is the primary foreign backer of Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli.

The oil-rich country has been embroiled in conflict since the 2011 NATO-backed military campaign to overthrow longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. For years the GNA has been fighting Haftar’s rival Libyan National Army (LNA), based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

In June, Turkish support helped GNA-allied militias thwart a year-long attempt by Haftar to capture Tripoli.

Just three days ago, Haftar said his forces would “prepare to drive out the occupier by faith, will and weapons,” in a reference to Turkish troops aiding the GNA.

The GNA and LNA, which is backed by France, Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, signed a cease-fire deal in October. The UN has been urging political dialogue and elections to be held next year.