By Declan Walsh
The Turkish president said his country’s Parliament would soon vote on a deployment, adding to an escalating proxy battle among regional powers.
Turkey moved closer to a major military intervention in Libya’s escalating civil war on Thursday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a parliamentary vote that could send troops in a matter of weeks to support the embattled government of the North African country.
Mr. Erdogan wants to counter the Russian-backed forces of the militia leader Khalifa Hifter, who have put the Libyan capital, Tripoli, under siege since April.
Tripoli residents said Thursday that the Russian support appeared to be accelerating the advance of Mr. Hifter’s forces into the city.
Although the size of the planned deployment is unclear, it would signal a far greater role for Turkey — and for Mr. Erdogan — in a chaotic war that had already become a proxy battle among regional powers.
Mr. Erdogan, whose government has supplied armored vehicles and drones to the United Nations-recognized government of Libya, said in early December that his country might send troops, too. But as recently as Wednesday, when he met with Libyan and Tunisian officials in Tunis, he also said that Turkey would intervene only at the request of the government in Tripoli.
On Thursday, he said that a request had come and that Turkey’s Parliament, which his party controls, would consider it on Jan. 8 or 9.
“We do not go where we are not invited. Right now, there is an invitation that we will respond to,” Mr. Erdogan told a meeting of his governing party in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. “If God permits, as soon as the Parliament opens, as the first thing to do, we will present the deployment of troops resolution to our Parliament.”
It was unclear, though, whether the Libyan government actually had formally invited Turkey to send troops. Speaking in Tunis, Libya’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, told reporters on Thursday that the government would request help if the situation deteriorated further.
“If the situation escalates then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents,” Mr. Bashagha said, according to Reuters.
Since the 2011 rebellion that toppled and killed the dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya has been battered and fragmented by factional fighting. Mr. Hifter, a former officer in Colonel el-Qaddafi’s military, spent years trying to overthrow him, including during a long period living in the United States.
Mr. Hifter, who styles himself as a strongman who can restore order to Libya, is backed by the United Arab Emirates and by Egypt, and has received help from France.
On Thursday, President Trump spoke about the war in Libya with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the White House said in a statement. The presidents “rejected foreign exploitation and agreed that parties must take urgent steps to resolve the conflict before Libyans lose control to foreign actors,” the statement said, without specifying those actors.
The White House declined to say anything further on the record, but confirmed on background that the reference to “foreign actors” included Russia.
In Libya, Mr. Hifter’s forces suffered a major setback in June with the loss of a base south of Tripoli, but their fortunes were revived in recent months by the arrival of Russian mercenaries bringing concerted artillery support and sniper fire, all with the Kremlin’s blessing.
“All those are helping a warlord, but we are responding to an invitation of the country’s legitimate government,” Mr. Erdogan said. “This is our difference.”
The Libyan government led by Fayez al-Sarraj has defended itself in Tripoli, but as the battle has deepened in recent months, it has become increasingly reliant on Mr. Erdogan’s backing for survival.
On Saturday, the Turkish Parliament ratified a new security and military cooperation deal with Mr. al-Sarraj’s government.
“We have given and will give all forms of support to the Tripoli government,” Mr. Erdogan said.
Michael Shear contributed reporting from Washington.
The New York Times
Turkey to send troops to Libya in support of Tripoli government
By Ayla Jean Yackley
President Erdogan says he will ask parliament to approve the troop deployment in January
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara will send troops to Libya after Tripoli’s UN-backed government requested military support in its battle against forces led by military commander Khalifa Haftar.
In a speech in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan said he would present legislation for the troop deployment to parliament in early January.
Turkey’s parliament would vote on the motion on 8 or 9 January, he added.
“Since there is an invitation [from Libya] right now, we will accept it,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party.
“We will present the motion to send troops [to Libya] as soon as parliament resumes.”
The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has been fending off a months-long offensive by Haftar’s forces, who are backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, and are also supported by fighters and mercenaries from Sudan and Russia.
Haftar, a one-time CIA asset who served under former leader Muammar Gaddafi, launched a military operation on the capital Tripoli in early April, but so far his forces have been unable to reach the city.
The clashes have killed more than 1,000 people and wounded around 6,000. According to UN agencies, more than 120,000 people have been displaced.
Following Erdogan’s announcement, interior minister Fathi Bashagha told reporters in Tunis that the GNA would officially request military support from Turkey if the war over the capital escalates.
“If the situation escalates and then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents… we will submit an official request to the Turkish government to support us militarily so we expel the ghost of mercenary forces,” Bashagha said.
Erdogan justified the planned troop deployment saying Haftar’s forces were backed by the Wagner group, a Russian security company.
“They are helping a warlord. We are responding to an invitation from the legitimate government of Libya,” Erdogan said. “That is our difference.”
The Wagner Group is a shadowy Kremlin-backed private military contractor that has also been involved in the Syrian civil war, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad against rebel forces.
The military contractor is also believed to be active in Sudan and the Central African Republic, where it reportedly serves as President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s personal security detail.
Asked about Ankara’s plans to send troops to Libya, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the AFP news agency it was “unlikely that the interference of third parties in this situation could contribute to a settlement.”
He added: “But any attempt by third countries to contribute directly to solving the problem and to help the parties to the conflict find a solution is always welcome.”
Thursday’s announcement came a day after Erdogan met with his Tunisian counterpart, Kais Saied, during an unannounced trip to the Tunisian capital to discuss developments in Libya.
Erdogan told reporters in Tunis that the two leaders discussed ways to establish a ceasefire and bring warring factions back to the negotiating table.
On Thursday, Erdogan also said that Turkey and Tunisia had agreed to support the GNA.
“We have given and will give all forms of support to the Tripoli government which is fighting against a putschist general backed by Arab countries and Europeans,” Erdogan said.
However, later on Thursday, the Tunisian presidency denied that it was involved in any alliance, or with any party, in Libya.
“Tunisia will not accept to be a member of any alliance,” a presidential statement said.
Libya, a large oil producer, has been plagued by crisis since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Gaddafi in 2011.
The country is split between two rival administrations: the GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is allied to Haftar.