Erdogan Wins One-Year Mandate to Send Turkey Troops to Libya

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s parliament authorized the government to deploy troops to back Libya’s internationally recognized administration against rival forces, deepening a proxy war that’s drawn in Russia and regional powers.

The parliament on Thursday voted 325 to 184 to give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a one-year mandate to dispatch troops at the request of the government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Sarraj’s Tripoli-based government is battling forces aligned with commander Khalifa Haftar, which are backed by Russian mercenaries, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey’s involvement could complicate international efforts to end the divisions that have roiled the country since the overthrow of strongman Moammar Qaddafi in 2011.

“We’re not intervening in Libya, we are just responding to a request for help from the internationally recognized government there,” Emrullah Isler, Erdogan’s envoy to Tripoli, told parliament before the vote. Libya has been under a United Nations arms embargo since 2011.

A range of countries with interests at stake swiftly signaled opposition. Italy, which has longstanding political and economic ties to Libya, objects to any foreign intervention in the North African country, according to an official who declined to be named.

Egypt’s foreign ministry warned that “such interference will negatively affect stability in the Mediterranean, and Turkey will fully bear this responsibility.”

The leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Israel said in a joint statement tht the Turkish incursion is a “dangerous threat to regional stability.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, who at times has expressed some support for Haftar, was much milder in his comments. According to a White House statement, Trump pointed out in a phone call with Erdogan on Thursday that “foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya.”

Haftar is allied with a rival administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk. He already controls most of Libya’s oil facilities, as well as chunks of territory in the country’s east and south. Haftar was able to renew his stalled offensive on the capital, Tripoli, after Russian mercenaries intervened in September.

Turkey aims to salvage billions of dollars of business contracts thrown into limbo by Libya’s protracted conflict, and in return for agreeing to defend Sarraj’s administration, it won Libyan backing of a controversial maritime deal affirming Ankara’s claim to rights in the eastern Mediterranean, where it is at loggerheads with Cyprus over natural gas resources.

Turkey is ready to send its navy to protect Tripoli, while its troops train and coordinate Sarraj’s forces, according to a senior Turkish official.

The terms of the Turkish deployment will include:

  • Establishment of an elite Libyan force to respond immediately to threats
  • Allocation of weapons, planes, vehicles on ground and at sea
  • Joint exercises
  • Exchange of counter-terrorism intelligence and operational cooperation

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