Will Turkey deploy troops to Libya?
The devastating Libyan civil war does not promise a peaceful resolution any time soon. Having continued in different forms since the ouster of former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in October 2011, the deadly war in Libya has created two powerful rival fronts along the political, ideological and tribal lines.
On the one side of the rivalry is the Tripoli-based and U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) under the leadership of Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj as the chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and prime minister of the GNA and on the other side is Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar.
The latter has long been receiving military and political support from the United States, Russia, European powers as well as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey and Qatar are supportive of the GNA in Tripoli. There are reports of continued arms transfer to both parties by their supporters at the expense of a violation of an arms embargo on Libya through U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Unfortunately, the situation in Libya, one of the largest oil producers in the world, has already turned into a proxy war with futile international efforts to give an end to the bloodshed. A conference slated for the end of December in Berlin will likely be further delayed due to continued clashes in the field and disagreements over the composition of it.
At this very point came the announcement of two memorandums of understanding reached between Turkey and Libya’s GNA in the past weeks. One of them was on the delimitation of the maritime jurisdiction areas in the Mediterranean and has already sat on the core of a regional dispute between Turkey and Greece-Egypt-Greek Cyprus. This deal has already been approved by the Turkish Parliament and the GNA and has taken effect.
The second one concerns security cooperation between Turkey and the GNA but has not yet come to the Turkish Parliament. Turkish officials say that this security and military cooperation agreement with the NGA is a broader version of a previous military framework agreement and establishes training and education, structures the legal framework, and strengthens the ties between the two militaries.
Ankara has underlined that it will continue to advocate a peaceful solution to the Libyan problem and called on all actors to follow a similar path. In an interview with the TRT late Dec. 9, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan explained that this security agreement should be interpreted as a contribution to reforming the security mechanisms in Libya, an issue seen as part of efforts to return to the talks for a political solution to the question.
However, a new dimension to the scope of Turkish-Libyan cooperation came to the fore as Erdoğan implied that Turkey might send troops to Libya should the GNA formally request it.
“Of course, such an invitation [from the GNA] would give us this right [to send troops],” Erdoğan said, also rejecting claims that a potential deployment of troops would not violate existing U.N. Security Council resolutions by recalling that Italy also has a small group of soldiers in the Libyan theater. Turkey will make its own decision in case an invitation would be pledged by the Tripoli-based government, he added.
For the time being, there seems no publicly made invitation by the GNA to Turkey for sending troops. It will remain to be seen what Turkey’s response to such an invitation would be. Unlike the military operations in Syria, sending troops to Libya will sure lead to a louder objection from the opposition parties.
At a time when Turkey is already in a messy relationship with the U.S., Russia and European powers on Syria, opening a new political and military front in Libya would further strain ties with the said nations. Erdoğan has deliberately singled out Russia as he said he will have a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days specifically on Libya.
“On the Haftar issue, I don’t want it to give birth to a new Syria in relations with Russia, I believe Russia will also review its existing stance over Haftar,” Erdoğan said. “He is an outlaw, and by that same token, any support he’s given is rendered illegally.”
With this statement, Erdoğan admits that the Libyan case would just be a repetition of what we have been observing in Syria and that may jeopardize the existing dialogue between Ankara and Moscow.
Not only with Russia obviously. A Turkish decision to send troops will surely draw a reaction from the international community which is against any sort of foreign intervention. Plus, Libya is not Syria and the deployment of troops on the other side of the Mediterranean would not be interpreted as a measure to address legitimate security concerns of Turkey.