Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced military backing for Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), now that the north African country requested it.
In a speech in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan said on January 7 he will present a bill to the Turkish Parliament on deployment legislation.
“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.”
“God willing, we will pass it in Parliament on January 8-9 and thus respond to an invitation” from the Tripoli-based GNA, he said.
Follwoing Erdogan’s announcement, interior minister Fathi Bashagha told reporters in Tunis that Libya’s internationally recognised government will officially request military support from Turkey if the war over the capital escalates.
“If the situation escalates then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents,” Bashagha said.
Last month, Turkish and Libyan officials, led by GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, signed a memorandum of understanding on security and military cooperation.
The GNA’s cabinet of ministers and Turkish legislators have since ratified the deal, but a separate motion is needed to send troops.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from the Libyan capital, said Ankara needed an official request for troops on the ground from Tripoli before a motion could be presented to Parliament.
“The military and security cooperation agreement signed between Turkey and Libya last month does not entail sending troops.
“That is why Erdogan was asking for an official request from the GNA before he can proceed with presenting this to Parliament for an endorsement,” said Abdelwahed.
The GNA in Tripoli has not disclosed any information that an official request has been made.
Thursday’s announcement came a day after Erdogan met with his Tunisian counterpart, Kais Saied, during a surprise visit to the Tunisian capital to discuss developments in neighbouring 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.
Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s willingness to send troops to support the GNA, saying Ankara would do so at the Libyan government’s request.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The country has been split into rival eastern and western administrations since 2014, with the GNA, currently controlling Tripoli, situated in northwestern Libya, and a parallel administration holding the east of the oil-rich country, supported by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar‘s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Since early April, Haftar has waged a military campaign against the GNA, which he accuses of harbouring “terrorist elements”.
Turkey and Qatar support the GNA, while Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, support Haftar.
Moscow has voiced concerns over any Turkish deployment in support of the GNA. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday and they agreed the crisis must be resolved peacefully, the Kremlin said.
Russia last month denied reports in the New York Times that it had sent mercenaries to fight on Haftar’s side, while the UN has also accused LNA forces of recruiting fighters from Sudan.
According to Al Jazeera’s Abdelwahed, the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya could help defend the capital, Tripoli, against a military offensive by Haftar’s forces.
“Many military commanders with the GNA say that Haftar’s forces have been recently advancing on the ground, taking control of strategic locations in southern Tripoli including military camps,” he said.
“Military forces are also very concerned about the Russian assistance to Haftar’s military forces.
“Turkish troops on the ground in Libya can definitely make a change.”
Regarding Haftar’s backers, Erdogan said on Thursday: “They are helping a warlord. We are responding to an invitation from the legitimate government of Libya … That is our difference.”