Turkish MPs to vote on Libya troop deployment

Special Turkish MPs to vote on Libya troop deployment
In a speech Thursday, Erdogan said Turkey and Tunisia agreed to support Libya’s internationally recognized government of Fayez Al-Serraj. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 December 2019

Turkish MPs to vote on Libya troop deployment

Turkish MPs to vote on Libya troop deployment
  • Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned of the danger of non-Arab interventions in Libya and Yemen
  • Erdogan visited Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss cooperation for a possible cease-fire in neighboring Libya

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Parliament will vote in early January on a motion to send troops to Libya to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) upon the latter’s invitation.

“Libya is, for us, the reminiscence of the Ottoman Empire,” he said, referring to the fact that Libya was part of the empire from 1551 to 1864 as its last African possession.

The motion will be presented on Jan. 7 when Parliament resumes, and it is expected to pass in the following days. Erdogan’s comments came just after his surprise visit to Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss avenues of cooperation for a possible cease-fire in neighboring Libya. The parliamentary vote is a continuation of Ankara’s recent commitments to support the GNA through a security and military cooperation deal, and an agreement to delimit maritime borders.

Along with its drones that have long been operating in Libya, Turkey is expected to send an elite contingent that includes special operations units, marine commandoes and intelligence officers. A delegation of some military tasks to private contractors may also be on the horizon.

Military analyst Metin Gurcan tweeted: “Ankara is aware that a no-fly zone over Tripoli is a must to protect the GNA. Therefore, it is important that Tunisia provides air base for Turkish aircraft. But, Egypt is likely to show a harsh reaction to the deployment of Turkish F-16s to Tunisia.”

Dr. Can Kasapoglu, director of Istanbul-based think tank EDAM’s Security and Defense Research Program, said the forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who opposes the GNA, enjoy air superiority, so unless Ankara and the GNA address this problem, any Turkish forward deployments will be exposed.

Turkey does not have sufficient naval aviation capacity to intervene in the Libyan conflict, Kasapoglu added. “Given the geographical limitations, the Turkish Air Force can’t generate the required sortie rates in Libyan skies if needed,” he told Arab News. Nevertheless, Libya is a high-value geopolitical case for Ankara, he said.

Other experts agree that it will be very difficult for Turkey to enter the conflict effectively without establishing aerial superiority.

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and doctoral candidate at Oxford University, said the GNA views Turkey’s deployment of troops to Libya as a welcome boost to its military aspirations. But “Erdogan has claimed that Russia has 2,000 troops in Libya, and it’s important to note that Sudan, the UAE, Egypt, France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have all backed Haftar’s army in a meaningful way,” Ramani told Arab News.

“Turkey is the only regional power willing to commit resources to the GNA, so a large deployment would likely be necessary, in excess of 5,000 troops perhaps, to decisively reshape the balance of forces.” Although Turkey is seeking to build a naval base in Cyprus, which could expand its naval reach in the Mediterranean, Greece has now overtly pivoted toward Haftar, Ramani said. “So a deployment to Libya could lead to a broader Greece-Turkey confrontation,” he added.