As long as Libya’s internationally-recognized government needs Ankara’s support to stave off destabilising actors like France and Egypt, Turkey will continue to have its military presence in the country.
Recently, the Turkish parliament ratified a motion to extend troop deployment in Libya for 18 months. According to the motion, “the risks and threats are coming from Libya to Turkey and the whole region. In the case of restart of the so-called Libyan National Army attacks and the clashes, Turkey’s interests both in the Mediterranean waters and North Africa will be adversely affected”.
Turkey has supported the United Nations-sponsored political process which led to the creation of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in 2015. This step aimed to achieve a just, comprehensive, lasting and peaceful solution in the country.
However, in April 2019, warlord Khalifa Haftar and his self-declared ‘Libyan National Army’ (LNA), moved to seize the capital Tripoli from the UN-backed GNA. Haftar’s offensive not only undermined the political process but also prompted the Turkish government to increase its support to the Tripoli government.
Haftar’s forces, supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, France and Russia, are equipped with drones, tanks, heavy-duty weapons and foreign mercenaries. The UAE and Egypt are the main sponsors of Haftar’s war in Libya since 2014. The two regional actors are also providing political, diplomatic and logistical support.
To defend itself from Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli, the GNA requested help from Turkey, which paved the way for an agreement signed between Ankara and the UN-backed government in November 2019. As a result, on January 2, 2020, Turkey’s Parliament approved a government proposal to deploy troops to Libya to support the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli. Turkey provided with practical assistance, providing vital military aid to the GNA including armed drones and air defence systems.
It was with Turkey’s military help the international community was able to safeguard the UN-backed GNA and repel attacks launched by Haftar’s LNA. By April 2020, the GNA was in a stronger position, with the LNA forces taking a battering in the battlefield. The GNA’s military gains enabled diplomatic initiatives to reintroduce the UN framework and take steps to resolve the long-standing crisis.
Since August 2020, a ceasefire in place, the UN’s political track continues to progress, a Libyan Political Dialogue Forum under UN auspices seeks to leverage parties toward national reconciliation and a new unity government that will be inclusive of both sides.
The peace talks opened a window of opportunity to reach a political agreement and contain violence in Libya. But Haftar’s LNA reportedly violated the truce on several occasions. UN-backed Brigadier General Ali Al-Sharif recently stated that Haftar violated the ceasefire in Ubari, a strategic hub for Libya’s migratory and oil flows.
The senior Libyan official reportedly said that the latest manoeuvres by Haftar’s forces in southern Libya come on the orders of France, which seeks complete military control in oil-rich areas, to strengthen its presence in the region of the Sahel and the Sahara. Thus, the situation in Libya remains unstable.
Turkey has supported the UN-backed government to rebalance the situation on the ground with the hope of bringing an end to the conflict and open space for Libyans to come to an agreement amongst themselves by curtailing the influence of foreign drivers who bring instability in the country.
Turkey also seeks to preserve both Turkey’s and Libya’s rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean waters. The Turkey- Libya maritime agreement enables both countries to increase their respective maritime zones.
Turkey has various interests in Libya and its engagement includes preserving its economic and geostrategic interests in the country and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish government has concerns that the Libyan civil war could have a spill-over effect, leading to prolonged instability, and allowing anti-Turkey forces with more leverage in the region. Therefore, the Turkish government has sought to prevent Libya from falling under the sway of the UAE, Egypt, Russia and France which could put Turkey’s geostrategic and economic interests in the region at risk.
As part of the Military Training, Cooperation agreement Turkey continues to provide training support for Libya’s armed forces. Since the military agreement was ratified with Libya, Turkey began sharing its military resources and experience with the GNA by training Libyan forces.
Reportedly, Turkey and the GNA have discussed possible Turkish use of two military bases in Libya: the Misrata naval base and the al Watiya airbase, which has been retaken by forces loyal to the GNA. This could indicate that Turkey would like to operationalise both air and naval bases as swiftly as possible to prevent any potential counterattacks from the East.
Turkey is in Libya upon the invitation of the legitimate government of Libya thus, Turkey could continue to provide training for GNA forces to act as an army. Given these complexities, Turkey will stay in Libya as long as the legitimate GNA government needs Ankara’s support.