France temporarily withdrew from the security operation launched by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Libya after a major dispute with Turkey, the member state of the alliance as well.
The Ministry of Defense said that France suspended its role in the “sea guard” operation, accusing Turkey of violating the arms embargo imposed on Libya.
The move comes weeks after Turkish ships, as has been said, targeted a French warship in the Mediterranean, which Ankara strongly denies.
NATO allies are believed to support various parties in the civil war in Libya.
Libya, an oil-ravaged oil-rich country in the wake of the 2011 overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi by NATO-backed forces, is a key transit point for migrants heading from Africa to Europe.
The government of national reconciliation, recognized by the United Nations, is currently fighting the forces of the military commander, Khalifa Haftar, which controls large parts of the east and south of the country.
Why France withdraws from the operation?
French relations with Turkey have become increasingly tense in recent months due to the Libyan crisis, Turkey’s role in northern Syria, and oil and gas exploration operations in the eastern White Sea.
But the main incident that strained relations occurred on June 10, when the French frigate, “Courbet”, went to search a cargo ship flying a Tanzania flag called Sirkin, off the Libyan coast, to confirm whether it was smuggling weapons.
The French ship at the time was participating in the NATO operation called “The Sea Guard”, which seeks to maintain freedom of navigation, along with other goals, and plays a role in “combating maritime terrorism”.
What happened after that is still disputed. According to the French Defense Forces, Turkish ships accompanying the Sirkin ship, which, according to what they said, were carrying medical supplies, acted aggressively with the French ship Corbier, and instead targeted it with its weapons systems, three times.
Turkey denies the French allegations, saying the deal between the two sides was friendly. After that incident, France asked NATO to investigate it.
The two countries have exchanged insults in recent weeks. French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey on Monday of committing a “historical criminal process” in the conflict in Libya, which is “a country he says is a member of NATO.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlod Shaoyishoglu said on Tuesday that France was “saboteur” in a country in North Africa, accusing it of seeking to “expand the area of the Russian presence in Libya.” France demanded Thursday that it apologize for its allegations about “Courbet”.
Now France has suspended its role in Operation “Sea Guard”. It was reported that a Defense Ministry official said: “It is unreasonable to keep our contributions with allies who do not respect the embargo.”
What is the background to the dispute?
Both sides of the civil war in Libya have international support. Turkey, Italy and Qatar support the government of national reconciliation in Tripoli, while Russia, Egypt, and the UAE support the military leader Haftar.
As for France, it is also believed to support Haftar, although Paris officials denied this once.
The United Nations imposed an arms embargo until it stopped the entry of men and equipment into the country, but the ban was ineffective.
Turkey signed a military cooperation agreement with the National Accord government in 2019, and deployed its forces in Libya in January.
With the help of Turkey, the government of National Accord regained full control of Tripoli. Haftar is reported to have withdrawn his forces from the outskirts of the city.
A United Nations report, leaked in May, said that hundreds of Russian mercenaries, belonging to the Russian Wagner Group, and run by Yevgeny Brigozin, a close friend of President Putin, are currently in Libya, and support the military commander Haftar.
There are reports that the Wagner group is withdrawing from the country, although these reports are unconfirmed.