The threat of a military clash in the Mediterranean has drawn nearer following talks in which Turkey has underlined its willingness to send troops to Libya to defend the country’s UN-recognised government. The government of national accord in Tripoli, or GNA, is facing what is billed as a decisive assault by General Khalifa Haftar, the eastern Libyan military warlord.
Turkey, already at loggerheads with the US Congress and EU on multiple fronts, last week signed a military co-operation agreement with GNA that enables it to request troops from Turkey. The agreement, sent to the Turkish parliament on Saturday, provides for a so-called quick reaction force for police and military in Libya, as well as enhanced cooperation on intelligence and defence.
Turkish support for the GNA government led by Fayez al Serraj has until now been limited to drones and armaments, and it would be a major escalation to send ground troops to defend Tripoli.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and its defence minister, Hulusi Akar met with Serraj on the sidelines of a major diplomatic conference in Doha, Qatar at the weekend. Çavuşoğlu, speaking in Doha, said no formal request for troops has yet been made by the GNA, but added “sending troops is the easiest way”.
Haftar’s airforce, backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has already bombed the airport of the coastal town of Misrata in a warning to Turkey not to send troops or further supplies.
Turkey, along with the UAE, was formally found by the UN to be breaking the UN arms embargo, but the Turkish government seems determined not to let Tripoli to fall into hands of the UAE-backed Haftar.
As part of a binding together of Turkey and the Tripoli government, the two sides have also drawn up a memorandum of understanding to carve out drilling rights in the Mediterranean that has infuriated the European Union, and in particular Greece.
Athens says the exclusive economic zone agreement in effect blocks Greece from drilling around Crete and is illegal. It has already expelled the Libyan ambassador to Greece but not yet broken off diplomatic relations.
Via The Guardian