Turkey Seeks to Keep Its Military Presence In Libya Despite International Pressure

The second conference, that kicked off in Berlin on 23 June, demonstrated a significant progress made by the interim authorities and external actors over the past year towards resolving the Libyan conflict. However, despite solidarity showed by international mediators on the need for withdrawing all foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya, this issue is yet to be resolved, which slows down the process of national reconciliation as well as the ongoing preparations for general elections scheduled for December 24.

Although the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Libyan Transitional Government, Najla Al-Mangush, expressed the hope during the conference that mercenaries on both sides would leave the country within the coming days, Turkey’s intentions to maintain its military presence in Libya posed an insurmountable obstacle to tackling the problem.

From the very beginning of its intervention in the Libyan conflict, Turkey maintained, in its opinion, the most legitimate and win-win approach of supporting Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. Instead of supplying weapons and military equipment, the Turkish leadership signed a number of profitable agreements with the GNA, that allowed to formally cement the presence of its military contingent in Libya and initiate a revision of the maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean with an eye to expanding the exclusive economic zone and conducting geological exploration in disputed waters.

Faced a storm of international criticism over the signing of controversial agreements, Ankara continued insisting on its rightness, referring to the global recognition of the GNA and its legitimacy. In so doing, neither the lack of the legally required vote of confidence by the country’s parliament to the GNA nor its expired mandate after the completion of the Skhirat agreement made Ankara doubt the validity of the agreements concluded with the Libyan authorities.

The repulsion of Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli and the keeping of the GNA in power, that were both secured with the direct support of Turkey, finally convinced Ankara of the exceptional role that it played in Libya. In fact, under the pretext of protecting the so-called official Libyan government, the Turks managed to secure a foothold in North Africa and establish a zone of influence in the Mediterranean Sea, striking a blow at the interests of regional rivals such as Egypt and Greece.

For Turkey, the appointment of the interim government of national unity that came as a result of of the UN Political Dialogue Forum, changed absolutely nothing. The new authorities designed to put an end to the dual power and the enmity between the parties to the conflict found nothing better than to immediately reaffirm their commitment to the obligations arising from the earlier agreements with Turkey. The leaders of the GNU said that these agreements “fully correspond to the interests of Libya,” dispelling illusions about the impartiality of the new administration led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba.

While enjoying the allegiance of the GNU, Turkey continued to defend its military presence in the North African country against the backdrop of international efforts to combat foreign interference. To this end, Ankara began to actively promote a differentiated approach to the withdrawal of its mercenaries and regular troops from Libya. The Turkish leadership insists that its regular troops have the right to remain in Libya on the basis of existing agreements with the country’s government and their future presence should be discussed separately from that of mercenaries. At the same time, Ankara pretends that it complies with its obligations to the international community, by agreeing to withdraw part of its militants brought from Syria to join clashes against Khalifa Haftar’s troops. According to circulating reports, Turkey agreed to withdraw only 300 of thousands of its mercenaries active in Libya.

Turkey’s attempts to gain a foothold in North Africa may undermine the political process and lead to undesirable results, given the fact that the withdrawal of a foreign contingent was the main condition for the truce. In this regard, Turkish actions as well as should be dealt with in adequate manner by the European powers and the UN, whose efforts are currently aimed at establishing lasting peace and holding national elections.

Alaeddin Saleh
Alaeddin Saleh
Alaeddin Saleh is a Libyan journalist with a long track record of studying and covering Libya and the MENA