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Intel: US says there’s no ‘winning side’ in Libya

Aug 5, 2020

The Trump administration is amplifying its calls for a cease-fire in Libya as the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by Turkey, threatens to advance on the coastal city of Sirte.

“Over the past weeks, President Trump has spoken with several world leaders about Libya, and it is clear there is no winning’ side,” US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a press release on Monday, referring to the United States as “an active but neutral actor” in the conflict.

O’Brien called on all parties to the conflict, “both those responsible for the current escalation and those working to end it, to enable the [Libyan] National Oil Corporation (NOC) to resume its vital work with full transparency and to implement a demilitarized solution for Sirte and al-Jufra, respect the UN arms embargo, and finalize a cease-fire under the UN-led 5+5 military talks.”

Why it matters:  The United States is seizing on the GNA’s momentum to try and peel Hifter away from his foreign backers by pushing for a restoration of economic cooperation between both sides in the civil war. After the United States reportedly threatened Hifter with sanctions if he did not reopen the country’s oil flow, Wagner mercenaries moved into southern oilfields and the coastal al-Sidr terminal.

Washington then publicly broadened its threat, saying it would sanction Hifter’s foreign backers if they obstruct the return of oil flow. The warning prompted a conciliatory statement from the United Arab Emirates, which Libya’s NOC blamed after Hifter reversed his decision to cooperate with the oil body.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has expressed pointed concern that escalation in Libya could lead to deeper Russian military entrenchment, which could pose a potential problem for NATO.

What’s next:  Though Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have publicly called for a cease-fire, signs on the ground indicate they may be preparing for the worst, and it’s not clear, at least publicly, that Turkey and the GNA are interested in resolving the situation peacefully.

AFRICOM said last month that Russian fighter aircraft and possibly troops had been spotted near Sirte — a sign the Kremlin is taking few chances on its sunk costs.

Doubling down on rhetoric earlier this week, Hifter likened Turkey’s intervention to colonialism and threatened to meet Ankara’s forces “with bullets.”

Turkey’s maritime agreement with the GNA has riled Mediterranean neighbors. Last week, Saudi Arabia renewed a diplomatic push to rally North African countries’ opposition to Ankara’s designs.

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