Erdogan Gets More Entangled in Libya With Pledge of Military Aid

Selcan Hacaoglu

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey will increase military support to Libya to help the North African nation’s internationally recognized government defend against an offensive by commander Khalifa Haftar, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday.

Erdogan’s remarks came a day after Turkey’s parliament approved a defense pact to support Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s administration -- a first step before possible deployment of personnel to help with training and guidance if requested by Tripoli. To deploy troops in Libya, the Turkish government needs to send a separate motion for a vote by lawmakers.

Turkey will never take its steps back in Libya and Syria, Erdogan said as he vowed to support the United Nations-recognized government in Tripoli. His position has fueled concern the Libyan conflict is tipping deeper into a grinding proxy war.

Turkey Combat Troops Aren’t About to Enter Libya War, Envoy Says

“We will evaluate all options in the land, sea and air,” Erdogan said at a ceremony to mark progress in the construction of a Turkish-built submarine at the dockyard in the town of Golcuk. “If necessary, we will increase the dimension of our military support to Libya.”

The president has repeatedly expressed Turkey’s readiness to deploy soldiers in OPEC-member Libya should the country request it. Ankara’s move is aimed at countering Haftar, whose forces are backed by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group that’s headed by a confidante of President Vladimir Putin.

The expanding conflict has alarmed the U.S., which is now pressing harder for a peace deal. Erdogan has argued that sending troops at the request of Sarraj’s government wouldn’t contravene a UN arms embargo on Libya in place since 2011.

“Instead of supporting the internationally recognized government of Libya, they are backing a warlord,” Erdogan said, criticizing the support given to Haftar.

Backed by Russia, Haftar Starts Offensive to Take Libyan Capital

Hours after lawmakers in Ankara approved the defense pact to support Sarraj, Haftar’s forces said they seized a ship with a Turkish crew. The Grenada-flagged vessel has been led to the Ras Al Hilal port where it will have its cargo checked, according to a statement posted on Facebook, which showed footage of Haftar’s sailors seizing the ship and questioning three Turkish crew members.

Haftar already controls most of Libya’s oil facilities as well as swaths of territory in the country’s east and south, and he’s seeking to seize the biggest prize -- Tripoli -- ahead of any peace settlement. His Libyan National Army accuses Sarraj’s government of being beholden to militias and extremists, something it denies. The deployment of Russian mercenaries since September has further complicated international efforts to end the fighting.

Erdogan is keen to avoid a face-off with Russia in Libya but still criticized Wagner’s activities earlier this week.

“They are operating as Haftar’s mercenaries through an institution named Wagner,” Erdogan told reporters during a recent visit to Malaysia. “It’s obvious who pays them. It’s not right for us to be a mere spectator.”

Libya has been wracked by violence ever since the NATO-backed ouster of Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, with the instability turning it into a bastion for Islamist radicals and a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Europe. Turkey and the North African nation also approved this month a contentious maritime demarcation deal as Ankara attempts to assert its power over areas of the eastern Mediterranean where major gas finds have been made in recent years.

The memorandum of understanding approved Saturday by Turkey’s parliament includes:

Training, consultancy, experience transfer, planning and material support by Turkey for the establishment of a quick reaction force covering the police and military responsibilities in LibyaIf requested, establishing a joint office of defense and security cooperation in Turkey and Libya

--With assistance from Taylan Bilgic.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, Anil Varma, Paul Abelsky

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