Turkey said it would send troops to Libya after Tripoli’s internationally recognised government requested greater military support in its battle against a rival administration, in a move that risks escalating tensions that have already drawn in regional powers.
Turkey last month agreed to a defence pact with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based government to supply arms, share intelligence and provide training to security officers fighting for the embattled administration.
“We will submit a deployment motion to parliament. And with its approval we will much more effectively support the legitimate government in Libya,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech to party members on Thursday. Turkey’s parliament will vote on the motion on January 8 or 9, he added.
The internationally recognised government has been locked in a power struggle with the Libyan National Army controlled by rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, which holds the country’s oil-rich east.
Gen Haftar launched an offensive to seize Tripoli in April, and more than 1,000 people have been killed and 120,000 displaced since, according to the UN.
Turkey’s foray across the Mediterranean Sea could further escalate the proxy war now gripping Libya. Turkey and Qatar back the Tripoli government, while Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France support Gen Haftar.
The UN said this month that Turkey, along with Jordan and the UAE, have repeatedly breached an arms embargo on Libya.
Mr Erdogan said Turkey’s historical ties with Libya, parts of which were once controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and the risk that events there will spill over into the wider region would compel Turkey to intervene.
The pledge to put boots on the ground comes one day after Mr Erdogan paid a surprise visit to Tunisia, where he and President Kais Saied discussed efforts for a ceasefire and resumption of negotiations between Libya’s warring factions.
In his speech, Mr Erdogan accused Russia of sending 2,000 paramilitary forces and Sudan of providing 5,000 troops without approval of the official Libyan government.
The dispute over Libya could stoke tensions with Moscow, with which the Turkish government has collaborated closely in Syria to expel a US-allied Kurdish militia and force President Donald Trump to withdraw American soldiers from a buffer zone along Turkey’s border in October.
Turkish and Russian officials met this week to resolve differences on Libya and Syria. While they are co-operating in north-east Syria, Turkey-backed rebels and civilians are being bombarded by Syrian government and Russian warplanes in the north-west province of Idlib, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee to Turkey’s border.
A separate deal Turkey reached with the Tripoli government this month redrew maritime borders, cutting through territory claimed by Greece and Cyprus who are planning a pipeline to ship natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
The near-neighbours are involved in a long-running dispute over exploration rights for undersea gas and oil. Turkey previously sent drill ships and warships off the coast of Cyprus, where it has kept about 30,000 troops in the island’s breakaway north since invading in 1974. The EU has threatened to sanction Turkey over what Brussels said was “unauthorised drilling”.