December 26, 2019

Turkeys Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he will send troops to Libya as proxy war fears mount
Turkey could send troops to support Libya's embattled UN-backed government as early as next month, President Tayyip Erdogan declared on Thursday, in a move that will fuel fears that the country's civil conflict is turning into a proxy war between regional powers.  Libya's internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, has been fending off a months-long offensive against the capital by General Khalifa Haftar, a renegade field marshal whose forces have received support from Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey has emerged as a key backer the GNA since the battle began in April, and is already believed to have supplied weapons to the GNA.  Last month, Ankara signed two separate accords with the GNA, led by Fayez al-Serraj, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean. The maritime deal ends Turkey's isolation in the East Mediterranean and paves the way for an offshore energy exploration program that has alarmed neighbours including Greece. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would ask parliament to approve sending troops to Libya in January Credit: MURAT KULA/AFP The military deal is designed to shore up Turkey's lone ally in the region, Tripoli, which is surrounded by Gen Haftar's forces. "Since there is an invitation (from Libya) right now, we will accept it," Mr Erdogan told members of his AK (Justice and Development) Party in a speech. "We will put the bill on sending troops to Libya on the agenda as soon as parliament opens." The legislation would pass around January 8-9, he said, opening the door to deployment. However, it was unclear what specific invitation Mr Erdogan was referring to, as the interior minister in the Tripoli-based government, Fathi Bashagha, suggested in comments to reporters in Tunis that no such official request had yet been made. "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," Mr Bashagha said on Thursday. Gen Haftar's forces were not immediately available for reaction to Mr Erdogan's comments. Ankara has flagged the possibility of a military mission in Libya for several weeks. Such a deployment would further stretch its armed forces less than three months after it launched an incursion into northeastern Syria against a Kurdish militia. Turkey has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations arms embargo, according to a U.N. report seen by Reuters last month. The same report said a foreign air force, thought to be that of the UAE or Egypt, had been carrying out airstrikes in support for Gen Haftar's forces. Mr Erdogan visited Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss support for a possible ceasefire in Libya. On Thursday, he said Turkey and Tunisia had agreed to support the GNA.
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