LONDON 

France has come to realize that warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya is a “liability,” according to the Financial Times on Monday.

France was the only European country to back Haftar against the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli, which has recently been boosted by Turkey’s support that has changed the course of the civil war there.

Haftar appeared to be on the winning side until Turkey extended its support to the Libyan government which turned the tide against him.

French President Emmanuel Macron now said his country will adopt a neutral stance and support the UN peace process in Libya.

This came after Turkey’s recent political and security cooperation agreements with the Libyan government which led to Haftar’s forces being pushed back.

One experienced western diplomat told the FT: “The French have realised Haftar has become a liability and not an asset any more.”

“I believe they are embarrassed because once again they made a mistake. Faced with this mistake, they have to justify it and they blame Turkey,” the diplomat said.

The spat between Turkey and France over the Libyan civil war has “exposed cracks in the NATO military alliance,” the FT said.

In an effort to defend its oil interests and fighting terrorists in the Sahel region, France sided with the UAE in backing Haftar, Tarek Megerisi, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said. 

“France has different interests to Germany and Italy in Libya and it has moved to protect these interests,” he told the FT.

Turkey prevented humanitarian disaster

Haftar had attempted to militarily seize the Libyan capital Tripoli, in a brazen move backed by France.

One senior European diplomat told the FT: “Let’s be honest, Turkey stopped the fall of Tripoli.”

“Without their intervention, it would have been a humanitarian disaster,” the diplomat said.

But France always had difficulty in defending and promoting its backing of Haftar. Other NATO and European countries had always seen Haftar as the aggressor, and the main obstacle to a political solution.

Dorothée Schmid, a Middle East expert at Ifri, the French foreign relations institute, told the FT: “France is rather isolated in this affair.”

Libya has been torn by civil war since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Libya’s new government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to the military offensive by Haftar’s forces, resulting in civilian chaos and more than 1,000 deaths.

In March, the Libyan government launched Operation Peace Storm to counter attacks on the capital, and recently retook strategic locations, including the Al-Watiya airbase and the city of Tarhuna, Haftar’s final stronghold in western Libya.

Turkey has stressed the need for a political solution in Libya, decrying efforts by Haftar to oust the country’s legitimate government.

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