Turkish troops arrive in Libyan chaos
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who received parliamentary approval for the deployment last week, said: “Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation centre. Our soldiers are gradually going right now.”
The controversial measure to send ground forces was passed in Turkey’s parliament on Thursday by 325 to 184 votes, with the opposition voting against it.
The troops were not due to fight but “to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy” and to enforce a ceasefire, the nationalist president added.
Turkish assistance to Libya could include anti-aircraft weapons and jamming equipment to stop UAE-supplied combat and surveillance drones.
Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) will not receive Turkish combat troops but teams for co-ordination tasks. Turkish commanders are due to co-ordinate operations in Libya and organise training, Erdogan added.
The GNA, backed by Algeria, Italy, Turkey and Qatar, has been besieged in Tripoli by Haftar since April and denied access to Libya’s oil wells. Tobruk-based Haftar has the backing of Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France and Egypt.
Security and maritime pacts between the feeble Libyan administration and Turkey have also provoked Greece and Cyprus, which are nervous about Turkish attempts to secure natural gas reserves across the eastern Mediterranean. Both have begun conferring with Egypt and aligning with Haftar. Greece’s foreign minister, Nikolaos Dendias, visited eastern Libya in late December to meet Haftar.
Egypt and Turkey have had strained ties ever since the Turkish-backed Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi was toppled in 2013.
Ankara is also at odds with Cairo over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.
At least 30 people were killed in an attack on a military academy in Tripoli on Saturday.
More than 280 civilians and 2,000 combatants have been killed since the start of Haftar’s assault, according to UN estimates.
Turkey has signed maritime agreements with the GNA that ignore Greece and Cyprus. Both governments fear Erdogan will use the deals to justify exploration for oil and gas.
The agreements with the GNA had “brought about gains of great strategic importance for our country”, Erdogan said in his New Year’s Eve address. “The projects aimed at entirely excluding Turkey from the Mediterranean have thus been wholly thwarted with our recent steps.”
Tripoli initially refused to sign the agreement with Erdogan, worried it would alienate Europe, but gave in to Turkish requests in November as Haftar advanced on the capital.
“They self-immolated themselves from a diplomatic perspective to save themselves militarily,” said Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute, a think-tank in the Netherlands.
“The priority is to help avoid the collapse of the GNA government in Tripoli,” said Harchaoui. “It is about making sure the GNA doesn’t get toppled by Haftar and the UAE.”
The UN Security Council will meet behind closed doors to discuss the Libyan crisis.
The Libyan civil war is deepening. Picture credit: YouTube