Turkey underlines willingness to send troops to Libya while Erdogan says he can close US air bases

By bne IntelliNews December 15, 2019

Turkey at the weekend emphasised its willingness to send troops to Libya to defend the country’s UN-recognised government, leading some analysts to sound warnings that there is a growing threat of a military showdown in the Mediterranean.

Separately, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to close the strategic Incirlik and Kurecik military bases used by the US and Nato if Washington imposes sanctions in response for Turkey's purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft system. "If necessary, we can close Incirlik and we can close Kurecik," Erdogan said on December 15 in an interview with A Haber TV.

If Ankara sends troops to Libya it would risk a military confrontation with General Khalifa Haftar, the eastern Libyan military warlord said to be planning a decisive assault on the government of national accord in Tripoli, or GNA. Conceivably, the UAE or Egypt, which are supporting Haftar’s forces and are not on good terms with Turkey, might become involved.

Turkey last week signed a military co-operation agreement with the GNA. The document enables the GNA to request troops from Turkey.

Turkish support for the GNA government led by Fayez al Serraj has to date been limited to drones and armaments.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, and the Turkish defence minister, Hulusi Akar, met with Serraj on the sidelines of a major diplomatic conference in Doha, Qatar at the weekend. Cavusoglu, speaking in Doha, said no formal request for troops had yet been made by the GNA. However, he remarked that “sending troops is the easiest way”.

Haftar’s airforce, backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has already bombed the airport of the Libyan coastal town of Misrata in a warning to Turkey not to send troops or further supplies, the Guardian reported.

Turkey, along with the UAE, was formally found by the UN to be breaking the UN arms embargo on sending weapons to Libya.

Two hundred Russian mercenaries are reportedly present in Libya backing Haftar.

Serraj met the influential US Republican senator Lindsey Graham on the sidelines of the Doha conference to warn about Russian intervention. Erdogan has pressed Putin to order the mercenaries to withdraw.

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