ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament on Thursday authorized the deployment of troops to Libya to support the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli battle forces loyal to a rival government that is seeking to capture the capital.
Turkish lawmakers voted 325-184 at an emergency session in favor of a one-year mandate allowing the government to dispatch troops amid concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate the conflict in Libya and destabilize the region.
The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by the rival regime in the east and commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment, after he and Sarraj signed a military deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya. That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has drawn ire across the region and beyond.
Ankara says the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it finds itself increasingly isolated as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have established exclusive economic zones paving the way for oil and gas exploration.
“A Libya whose legal government is under threat can spread instability to Turkey,” ruling party legislator Ismet Yilmaz argued in defense of the motion. “Those who shy away from taking steps on grounds that there is a risk will throw our children into a greater danger.”
The government has not revealed details about the possible Turkish deployment. The motion allows the government to decide on the scope, amount and timing of any mission by Turkish troops.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey would send “the necessary number (of troops) whenever there is a need.”
But he also said Turkey would not dispatch its forces if Libya’s rival government halts its offensive.
“If the other side adopts a different stance and says ‘OK, we are withdrawing, we are backing down,’ then why would we go?” Oktay said.
Turkey’s main opposition party, CHP, had said its lawmakers would vote against the motion because the deployment would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the further “shedding of Muslim blood.”
Before the vote, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on the government Thursday to work for the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Libya.
“Turkey must take the lead for efforts to establish stability in the region and concentrate all diplomatic efforts in that direction,” Kilicdaroglu tweeted.
A center-right opposition party also said its legislators would not back the motion.
“We cannot throw our soldiers in the line of fire of a civilian war that has nothing to do with our national security,” said Aytun Ciray, a member of the opposition Good Party, said during the parliamentary debate.
However, Erdogan’s ruling party is in an alliance with a nationalist party, and the two held sufficient votes for the motion to pass.
Fighting around Tripoli escalated in recent weeks after Haftar declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital. He has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
Reporting by Susan Fraser
Image: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the members of his ruling party, in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019 (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)