JEDDAH: The announcement of Turkish military casualties in war-torn Libya has prompted a mixed response from the public.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed several Turkish soldiers had been killed in the North African country, as well as confirming the presence of Syrian National Army militants in the country.
“We have several martyrs, but in return we neutralized nearly 100 legionaries,” Erdogan said during a speech on Feb. 22.
On Feb. 23, 16 Turkish soldiers were reported to have been killed in the port city of Misrata over the past few weeks, according Khalid Al-Mahjoub, spokesman for Libyan National Army.
Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University, New York, and senior nonresident fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said he wasn’t surprised that Turkish soldiers had been killed, but added it could be unpopular at home. “The surprise is that so many were in active combat,” he told Arab News.
“Traditionally, Turkey’s military actions abroad have been focused on a relatively small band of interests. The Libyan operations are a real leap for Turkey and, under normal circumstances, would likely be quite unpopular,” he said.
The Turkish public overwhelmingly opposes the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya, according to a recent poll conducted by an Istanbul-based research institute. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents opposed sending Turkish forces to Libya. Turkey supports the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against the forces of Khalifa Haftar.
On Jan. 2, the Turkish Parliament ratified a motion authorizing the government to send military training personnel to Libya. But Ankara committed to only sending troops to provide technical support and military training, in addition to supplying the GNA with weaponry.
In late January, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Ankara to stop deploying militants from the Syrian National Army to Libya.
Eissenstat, though, said it was anybody’s guess what the response to Turkish casualties would be, given the government’s stranglehold over the mainstream media.
“These casualties would traditionally have been considered unacceptable. Today, however, the range for debate and dissent are so curtailed, it may not have a measurable effect at all,” Eissenstat added.
Sustained tensions between Russia and Turkey in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province is thought to be influencing Ankara’s decision to involve itself in Libya.
The two sides have been at odds over the Middle East region, whilst Erdogan previously warned that the presence of Russia-tied mercenaries in North Africa was a justification for Turkish military presence in Libya.
“I am not sure Turkey has a Libya policy. It is mainly wishful thinking. As such, it will be prone to changes and shifts depending on developments,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, told Arab News.
For Piccoli, resolving Idlib issue is much more important for Ankara than Libya.
“If Libya is the price to pay for Russian help in dealing with Idlib, Erdogan will swallow it,” he noted.