War /

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has submitted a motion to Parliament that would authorize the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya. The declaration came after the Libyan government requested military assistance in its war against renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar who leads a sizable militia intent on capturing Tripoli.

Upholding A Security Agreement And Supporting An Ally

Erdogan first floated the idea of requesting legislative approval to officially enter the conflict on Dec. 27, a mere four days before doing so and earlier than his initial time-frame. Previously, he said he would hold off until the parliament returns from its winter recess Jan. 7, but Erdogan is pitching the idea as one that demands urgent attention. Critically, the bill does not call for combat troops, only advisors and trainers for the Libyan military.

The war, which teeters on the edge of a civil war, has consumed Libya since April 2019. Presently, Haftar is held back by government forces on the southern edge of Tripoli. The request for help by the Government of National Accord (GNA) followed the ratification of a security agreement between the two states, which was signed in November. The deal specified the terms and details of Turkish support, which it was already providing in the form of drones, weapons, and military equipment. 

Turkish Parliament Gives Green Light To More Help For Libya’s GNA

The Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the accord, 269 to 125, which raises the question of whether it will permit further escalation of Ankara’s involvement in the foreign conflict. Some parties have already declared their positions and it seems it will pass. Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party and the Nationalist Movement Party have both announced their support for the measure. Assuming every seat votes in line in with their party, those votes alone would be sufficient to pass the measure (340 votes out of 600). 

The Republican People’s Party, Good Party, and Peoples’ Democratic Party are all against the measure, which creates a partisan scenario likely to draw intense debate on the parliamentary floor Thursday during planned debate on the bill. A full vote will likely follow soon after the recess ends.

Erdogan’s plan to deploy military assistance to help his ally, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, could be the push the GNA needs to squash Haftar’s surging campaign. However, it would put more troops in the middle of an already-crowded conflict. Haftar’s troops were bolstered in early December by the arrival of Russian mercenaries and Sudanese fighters. Russia has also supplied Haftar’s forces with anti-tank missiles – Kornets – which have proved devastating on the battlefield. Thus far, Sarraj’s government has not received the sort of backing that Haftar has, despite being recognized by the UN as the official government.

International Division Over Another Libyan Conflict

Politically, the international community is sharply divided on the conflict and Ankara is primary outlier in the Middle East that backs the GNA. Other Middle Eastern states, primarily Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, support Haftar’s renegade force. Even US President Donald Trump voiced approval of Haftar, speaking with him personally by telephone on April 15, 2019. The Trump Administration also managed to collude with Russia and Egypt to kill a UN Security Council resolution condemning Haftar’s campaign. 

Trump has managed to contradict his own State Department and military leadership on which side America actually supports in the conflict. In doing so, he tied up both possible US support and the support of its allies. The EU leadership is reluctant to become bogged down in another disastrous attempt to stabilize an Arab nation. Following the failed Arab Spring experiment in Libya, it is understandable why European powers refuse to dirty their hands once more in Tripoli. France joined Egypt in calling for the “greatest restraint” by the GNA, and the Arab League passed a resolution on Tuesday which outlined the need to prevent foreign interference.

Turkey’s Motives For Libyan Intervention

Despite the backlash Erdogan received, he is intent to join the fray. Although he justified it partially by security concerns, it is Ankara’s economic interests in Libya that have Erdogan pushing for a troop deployment. 

“Turkey’s interests … will be negatively impacted if attacks by the so-called Libyan National Army are not stopped and clashes become a severe civil war,” the deployment bill said. Turkey exported $1.5 billion to the state last year and it also has an incentive to protect its interests in natural resources lying in the Mediterranean. 

The maritime deal has incited protest from Egypt, Israel, and Greece, which claims it entirely ignores the presence of the island nation. Erdogan – from sending troops into Syria to strengthening his alliance with Sarraj, to threatening EU nations with refugees – is engendering more hate from nearly every other state in the region. Combined with his rebuke in domestic politics, he is setting himself up to be a leader with few friends. Ultimately, he will have to question whether maintaining an alliance with a failed state is worth it.

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