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Turkish parliament approves sending troops to Libya

January 2, 2020

Turkey is poised to send troops to Libya to support the UN-backed government against rivals and boost Ankara's claims in the Mediterranean. The move threatens to deepen a proxy struggle in the North African country.

Turkish counter terrorism forces
Image: picture-alliance/AA/H. Fidan

Turkey's parliament on Thursday authorized the government to send troops to Libya to support the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

The mandate passed with the support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the conservative Good Party voted against.

Read moreEU divisions over Libya leave a gap for others

The resolution gives the president the authority to "decide on the limit, extent, quantity and timing, to conduct, if necessary, military operation and intervention." It comes after Libya's internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) requested Turkish military support in December.

The Tripoli-based GNA has been struggling to repel a monthslong offensive by General Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which has been supported by Egypt, Jordan, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and France.

Egypt immediately condemned the Turkish vote, warning of "repercussions of any Turkish military intervention in Libya." US President Donald Trump warned Erdogan against "foreign interference" in Libya in a phone call after the vote, the White House said.  

Turkey may not immediately send troops to Libya and the move could be a way for Ankara to leverage its position to stop fighting and halt outside support for Haftar's forces.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey would not dispatch its forces if Libya's rival government halts its offensive.

"We are ready. Our armed forces and our Defense Ministry are ready," he said, adding that the parliament motion was a "political signal" aimed at Haftar's army.

"If the other side adopts a different stance and says 'OK, we are withdrawing, we are backing down,' then why would we go?'' Oktay said.

If it deploys troops, Turkey is likely to send elite special forces, military intelligence officers, drones and more advanced weaponry to Libya, Can Kasapoglu, of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank, wrote in a paper last month. However, it will be limited in providing airpower due to geographical limitations and the logistical issues of flying F-16 fighter jets in Libya, he said, noting that a lack of air cover could leave Turkish forces vulnerable to attack.

Ahmed Maiteeq on Conflict Zone

Putin-Erdogan meeting

The passage of the resolution comes ahead of a visit to Turkey by Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 8, when Libya and Syria are expected to be the focus of talks.

Russia, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has expressed concern about the prospect of Turkish troops being deployed to Libya. The Kremlin-backed Wagner group of private military contractors are supporting Haftar's forces, which have also received Russian armed drones. Erdogan has voiced opposition to the Wagner group supporting Haftar's forces.

Despite backing opposing sides of the conflict in Syria, Turkey and Russia have worked closely in recent years on that conflict and Erdogan is expected to try to strike a similar understanding in Libya. 

Ankara, with NATO's second-largest army, has hinted for weeks that it would flex its military muscle in Libya to defend the embattled GNA government, which is also supported by Qatar. It has already been sending weapons and drones to the GNA and allied Islamist militias despite a UN arms embargo. Turkey has also in the past couple weeks reportedly recruited Syrian rebel fighters it backs to send them to Libya. 

Struggle in the Eastern Mediterranean

Turkey's calculated escalation in Libya is intricately linked to its broader strategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Read moreTurkey-Libya maritime deal triggers Mediterranean tensions

In November, Turkey and GNA leader Fayez al-Serraj signed a defense cooperation deal and a separate one on maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is locked in a dispute with regional rivals Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel over access to waters rich in natural gas.

By striking a maritime deal with the GNA, Turkey ended its isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean and strengthened its position to contest the region's maritime boundaries. That deal, however, is only valid so long the GNA government stands. 

cw/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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