Turkey risks becoming even more deeply embroiled in Libya’s conflict and its decision to deploy troops marks a new stage in the internationalisation of the fighting.
Turkey has already supplied armoured vehicles to the UN recognised Government of National Accord GNA in Tripoli and also operates drones on its behalf.
Turkish troops will apparently be deployed in a “training and advisory” roll. But this is a highly flexible description. If the Tripoli Government has its back to the wall, then Turkey may be compelled to take a more direct hand in the fighting. At the very least the exact role and purpose of the Turkish deployment is yet to be defined.
The civil strife in Libya which intensified in April of last year with a renewed assault by the Tripoli Government’s main opponent General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army is increasingly taking on the appearance of a proxy war, with a variety of external actors picking sides and playing out their own regional ambitions.
In this sense, the conflict resembles the much greater catastrophe in Syria, but it looks clear that we will be hearing a good deal more of the Libya crisis and Turkey’s broader role in the region in the coming months.
It should be simpler than this. It is the government in Tripoli after all that has UN recognition. And there is an arms sales embargo (subsequently somewhat relaxed in favour of the Tripoli government) intended to draw the sting from the conflict.
But the reality is very different. The Tripoli government has Western backing. But its principal opponent Gen Haftar has received significant financial support from the UAE as well as armoured vehicles from both Jordan and the UAE.
The Emiratis have also deployed sophisticated Chinese supplied Wing Loong 2 unmanned aerial vehicles UAV’s which a UN report blames for a significant proportion of the civilians killed in Gen Haftar’s offensive.
Gen Haftar has also had support from Egypt and direct military assistance on the ground from “semi-official” Russian military contractors along with Sudanese and Chadian mercenaries. Indeed Russian snipers have reportedly had a significant local impact on the front line.
The US believes that Russian air defences may also have been provided to Gen Haftar’s forces. Washington insists that last November one of their UAVs was brought down by Russian missiles. The US operates over Libya against remnants of IS – a further illustration of the complex and fractured situation on the ground. Russia denies it has any active role in the fighting.