Turkey’s embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans to send troops to Libya amid rising international outrage at his attempt to lay claim to vast swathes of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish leader, who is allied with Qatar and the extremist Muslim Brotherhood network, said he would present a bill to parliament to send troops to Libya in early January when it resumes business.
Erdogan said the deployment was at the request of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj, which is fighting a civil war against an alternative government based in the eastern city of Benghazi whose forces are led by General Khalifa Haftar.
The statement follows a day after Erdogan held talks with Kais Saied, his Tunisian counterpart, where Erdogan said they agreed to support the Sarraj government.
Sarraj relies on a plethora of militias, including Islamist and terrorist groups, formed in and after the 2011 uprising against longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
General Haftar launched an offensive to capture the Libyan capital of Tripoli in April vowing to end the rule of militias that include hardline groups linked to Al Qaeda and others. General Haftar has reportedly received support from international allies opposed to extremism and the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to the United Nations, Turkey has already supplied military equipment to forces loyal to the GNA, including tanks and drones.
Turkey signed an accord with Sarraj last month that seeks to create an exclusive economic zone from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. Greece and Cyprus, which have long had maritime and territorial disputes with Turkey, say the accord is void and violates the international law of the sea. They see it as a cynical resource-grab designed to scupper the development of East Mediterranean gas and destabilize rivals.
Greece has expelled Libya’s ambassador in Athens and filed a complaint with the United Nations. Cyprus, where the northern part of the island is held by Turkey, has raised its own objections. At a December 12 summit, EU leaders issued a statement “unequivocally” siding with member states Greece and Cyprus.
Egypt and Israel, which have invested heavily in energy exploration in the region, are alarmed by the Turkey-Libya move, which may threaten their ability to export gas to Europe. Egypt has called it “illegal and not binding,” while Israel has said it could “jeopardize peace and stability in the area.”