A New Proxy War? Turkey Plans to Deploy Troops to Libya

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated his intention to provide military support to Libya’s recognized government in his latest attempt for increased geopolitical relevance and projection of Turkish power. In order to facilitate the deployment of Turkish troops, Erdogan will request the Turkish parliament to vote on the plan early next month. The corresponding law will likely be submitted by the beginning of January Erdogan confirmed in a speech to representatives of his party AKP.

Turkey’s Libya Deployment Timeline

Erdogan stated that “based on the security and military cooperation memorandum, once Parliament opens the first thing we will do is to submit a resolution on the deployment of soldiers.” Specifically, the resolution authorizing deployment to Libya is expected to be passed on January 8 or 9.

Moving forward, Turkey would go to places where it was invited but never anywhere where it was not wanted, Erdogan continued. The latter is his rationale for his Lybia plans, as Libya’s GNA government has invited Ankara to intervene and requested it. It’s an invitation that Erdogan is more than willing to accept. In fact, Turkey will provide the Tripoli government with “any kind of support against a coup-planning general backed by several European and Arab countries,” Erdogan said, adding that “we stand alongside Libya’s legitimate government.” The legitimization of the current government, however, remains a conundrum among the international community.

Libya’s Bloody Civil War

Libya has been suffering from a civil war since 2014. Erdogan already agreed on Sunday to provide more military support to the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, and to examine the possibilities of deploying boots on the ground, as well as air force and navy assets. At this stage, it is hard to predict what type of troops Erdogan will ultimately send. However, as NATO’s biggest army other than the US, Erdogan certainly has several options to explore.

Turkey and the al-Sarraj government in Libya had already concluded on a comprehensive security and military cooperation agreement, which allows Turkey to send military trainers and advisers. The Turkish government also has authorization for joint military exercises and may send weapons and military vehicles to Libya on request. Moreover, Turkey has pledged to help build a protection force to undertake police and military duties. In order to deploy combat troops, Erdoğan’s government requires separate parliamentary approval. The latter can be seen as a pure formality, however, as Erdogan’s AKP and his coalition partner, the MHP command a majority in the Turkish parliament.

Turkish Deployment Could Lead To An All-Out Proxy War In Libya

Nonetheless, Turkey’s increased involvement will likely further complicate the current situation in Libya with the fear of an actual proxy war becoming conceivable. The UN-recognized al-Sarraj GNA government and the powerful opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) forces commanded by dual American-Libyan citizen, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, have been competing for power since the overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011. Haftar’s Libyan National Army has been trying to capture the capital, Tripoli, since April. According to the UN, more than 280 civilians have been killed and more than 140,000 people displaced since Haftar’s offensive began eight months ago.

Amongst as-Sarraj’s primary supporters are Turkey, Qatar, and Italy. On the other side, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE have been supporting Haftar. Meanwhile, Russia, which also supports Haftar in Libya, has expressed concern about Turkey’s possible involvement. A delegation from the Turkish government traveled to Moscow on Monday to speak to Russian diplomats about Libya and Syria. The latter demonstrates Turkey’s status as an opportunistic power, as Ankara has been increasingly fraternizing with Russia in recent times, a development that is seen highly negatively in the West. The move now appears to be solely in Turkey’s interest.