Turkey will send troops to Libya at the request of Tripoli as soon as next month, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, putting the North African country’s conflict at the center of wider regional frictions.
Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has been fighting with General Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
An official in Tripoli confirmed a formal request had been made for Turkish military support in the air, on the ground, and at sea.
The official, who asked not to be named, spoke after the GNA’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, suggested in comments to reporters in Tunis that no such request had been made.
Haftar’s forces, which are based in eastern Libya, could not be reached for comment.
Haftar’s fighters have failed to reach the center of Tripoli but have made small gains in recent weeks in some southern suburbs of the capital.
Last month, Ankara signed two separate accords with the GNA, led by Fayez al-Serraj, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.
The maritime deal ends Turkey’s isolation in the East Mediterranean as it ramps up offshore energy exploration that has alarmed Greece and some other neighbors. The military deal would preserve its lone ally in the region, Tripoli.
“Since there is an invitation (from Libya) right now, we will accept it,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in a speech. “We will put the bill on sending troops to Libya on the agenda as soon as parliament opens.”
The legislation would pass around Jan. 8-9, he said, opening the door to deployment.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday held a telephone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the White House said, in which the two leaders “rejected foreign exploitation” regarding Libya.
“The leaders ... agreed that parties must take urgent steps to resolve the conflict before Libyans lose control to foreign actors,” the White House said. Egypt reportedly supported Haftar’s forces, while Washington has called all sides to de-escalate and warned over rising Russian involvement.
TENSION WITH RUSSIA
For weeks Ankara has flagged the possibility of a military mission in Libya, which would further stretch its armed forces less than three months after it launched an incursion into northeastern Syria against a Kurdish militia.
Turkey has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a UN arms embargo, Reuters reported last month according to a UN report.
Erdogan visited Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss cooperation for a possible ceasefire in neighboring Libya and said on Thursday that Turkey and Tunisia had agreed to support the GNA.
Tunisia’s presidency said on Thursday the country would never join any alliance or coalition and it would maintain sovereignty over all its territory, in an apparent response to Erdogan’s comments.
Moscow has voiced concerns over any Turkish deployment in support of the GNA. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday and they agreed the crisis must be resolved peacefully, the Kremlin said.
Turkish and Russian officials held talks in Moscow this week to seek a compromise on the issues of both Libya and Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad.
In the Mediterranean, Turkey is at loggerheads with Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt over rights to resources off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus. Athens says Ankara’s maritime deal with Tripoli violates international law.