Turkey approves bill to send troops to Libya
Despite the measure, it's not clear Turkey will actually deploy boots on the ground anytime soon
Turkey's parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows troops to be deployed in Libya, in a move that paves the way for further military co-operation between Ankara and Tripoli but is unlikely to put boots on the ground immediately.
The legislation passed with an 325-184 vote in the parliament, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party and its nationalist allies hold a majority.
All major opposition parties in the assembly voted against the bill.
Erdogan said last week Turkey would deploy troops in Libya to support Fayez al-Serraj's internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
The GNA last month requested Turkish support as it fights off an offensive by General Khalifa Haftar's forces in the country's east that is backed by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan.
Fighting and airstrikes continued Thursday around Tripoli, where the UN refugee agency said three mortars had fallen close to an overcrowded transit centre housing around 1,000 migrants in the centre of the city.
Turkey's move comes after Ankara and the GNA signed two separate agreements in November: one on security and military co-operation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, infuriating Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.
Analysts and officials say Ankara is unlikely to immediately send troops, but rather military advisers and equipment.
A senior Turkish official said last week Turkey may train Libyan soldiers in Turkey, and Reuters reported that Ankara is also considering sending allied Syrian fighters to Tripoli as part of the planned military support.
Turkey hopes to deter Haftar's forces
On Wednesday, Vice-President Fuat Oktay said the bill served a symbolic role that Ankara hoped would be a "deterrent" to the parties, and that Turkey may not send troops if Haftar's forces halted their offensive and pulled back.
"The deployment will likely start with military advisers, increased [drones] and special operations that would work with the Libyan military," said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who is chairman of the think-tank Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.
"The hope would be that the Turkish military may not itself be involved in military action," he said.
The GNA's interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, said Tripoli had requested Turkish support following a "dangerous escalation" in the conflict by Haftar's forces.
"As Libya's only legitimate and sovereign government, the GNA is the singular entity with the right to formalize military alliances necessary to safeguard our nation," Bashagha said, adding that the GNA aimed to stop a "war criminal" from seizing power and establish stability, security and democracy in Libya.
Ankara signed a military co-operation accord with Tripoli in November and has said it would help prevent Libya sliding into "chaos." It is also meant to protect Turkish private investment in Libya and bolster Turkey's offshore energy claims in the Mediterranean.
But it could also put Turkey at odds with the other foreign players in Libya's war and in the region. The Arab League is the latest to warn against the deployment of foreign fighters in the North African country.
"Ankara sees its involvement in Libya as a symbol of its new status as a regional power," said Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "The idea is to be at the big table, you need to be present on the ground."
Egypt strongly condemned Thursday's vote soon after it occurred.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry said in a statement said any such deployment could "negatively affect the stability of the Mediterranean region" and called on the international community to urgently respond to the move.
U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the situation in Libya with Erdogan in a phone call on Thursday, Turkey's presidency said less than an hour after Ankara passed the bill.
Trump and Erdogan "stressed the importance of diplomacy in resolving regional issues," the Turkish presidency said.
Ankara has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations arms embargo, according to a UN report seen by Reuters.
Better drones from Turkey could help the GNA. The UN said Haftar's Chinese-made drones, which were provided by the UAE and have a broad range, flew 800 airstrikes until November, while the GNA's Turkish-made drones carried out 200.