LIBYA: General Haftar promises “big surprise” for Erdogan in coming days; Russian MiG-29s arrive to support LNA; Former ISIS member captured among Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries

BENGHAZI, Libya – Libyan General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has pledged to expel Turkey and its Syrian mercenaries from Libyan territory in what Haftar has described as a “big surprise”.

The conflict in Libya has seen several major developments in the past week, with the Turkish-bolstered Government of National Accord (GNA) making significant gains against the LNA around the besieged city of Tripoli, the arrest of a well-known Syrian terrorist among the ranks of the Syrian fighters sent to Libya by Turkey, and the arrival of Russian MiG-29 jet fighters to aid the LNA.

General Ahmed al-Masmari, spokesperson for the LNA, said at a press conference over the weekend that LNA forces would end “The Erdogan Project” – refereeing to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – in Libya within days.

Masmari likely made his comments aware of the imminent arrival of Russian MiG-29s that would help balance the air war between the LNA and GNA after Turkish drones waged a vicious campaign of air strikes knocking out men and material. The most significant losses being advanced Russian Pantsir missile defense systems which Turkish drones seemed to have no difficulties in knocking out.

Among those killed in the recent GNA offensive was at least one Russian private military contractor fighting with the state-supported Wagner Group in Libya.

On Tuesday, U.S. Africa Command decried Russian interference in the Libyan conflict and released an image showing a Russian MiG-29 deployed to the country.

“U.S. Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors operating on the ground there,” said the U.S. military’s Africa Command in its statement.

As the fighting in Libya intensifies, it is becoming clear that the thousands of Syrian mercenaries sent to the country by Turkey have shifted the balance of power towards the GNA.

The Syrian fighters sent by Turkey, however, include Islamists and extremists. During fighting near Tripoli on Sunday, the LNA captured 12 Turkish-backed Syrian fighters.

Among those arrested was Muhammad al-Buwaidani, also known as Abubakr al-Buwaidani. In an interview with Al-Marsad, Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Rami Abdulrahman stated that Al-Buwaidani was the leader of “Legion of the Levant”.

“He joined them in 2016 after leaving ISIS against the background of the latter’s dispute with Al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front,” said Abdulrahman.

Abdulrahman continued:

“Ironically enough, this person had praised them in one of his tweets in 2014 and wished that ISIS would spread to the whole world. Despite that, one of the scholars affiliated with the pro-Turkey opposition, claims that Bashar Al-Assad’s regime handed over the ISIS leader to Haftar’s forces and that he was detained in the Al-Assad’s prisons. However, the fact is that he was killing Syrians in Afrin before he was transferred to fight in Libya.”