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 centre of wider regional frictions.
Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has been struggling to fend off General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, which have been supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan.
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 centre of Tripoli but have made small gains in recent weeks in some southern suburbs of the capital with the help of Russian and Sudanese fighters, as well as drones shipped by the UAE, diplomats say.
The Chinese-made drones have given Haftar “local air superiority” as they can carry over eight times the weight of explosives than the drones given to the GNA by Turkey and can also cover the whole of Libya, a United Nations report said in November.
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 neighbours. 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.
U.S. 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.