Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkish soldiers had begun deploying to Libya after parliament approved such a move last week as he confirmed that ‘mercenaries’ would be fighting in the war-torn North African country.
“Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation centre there. Our soldiers are gradually going right now,” he told CNN Turk broadcaster during an interview.
The Turkish parliament passed a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya aimed at shoring up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
The Tripoli government has come under sustained attack since military strongman general Khalifa Haftar launched his offensive in April.
Haftar is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while the UN-backed government has the support of Ankara and its ally Qatar.
Erdogan said Turkey’s objective was “not to fight”, but “to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy”.
He added that Turkey would not be deploying its own combat forces. “Right now, we will have different units serving as a combatant force,” he said, without giving details on who the fighters would be and where they would come from.
Senior Turkish military personnel would coordinate the “fighting force”, Erdogan explained, sharing their experience and information to support Tripoli.
Sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that nearly 1000 Syrian mercenaries have been already sent to the Libyan territory while around 1700 recruits are undergoing training courses in the training camps in Turkey.
SOHR sources documented the killing of the first Syrian fighter of those sent by Turkey to Libya, in Tripoli while fighting for the Government of National Accord.
According to information obtained by SOHR; the killed fighter was a member of “Sultan Murad” which is one of the most prominent factions among those sent their fighters to join the war in Libya.
Sultan Murad has been active in the Syrian war and has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood despite attempts at distancing itself from the outlawed organisation back in 2014.
Turkey’s move comes after the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord made a formal request for military support.
Analysts warn that Turkey’s deployment of troops risks plunging Libya deeper into a Syrian-style proxy war between regional powers
Libya and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in November last year, angering Mediterranean countries including Greece and Cyprus who also seek to exploit energy resources in the region.