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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Neo-Ottoman dreams on the African continent. Photo: Kremlin.ru

Erdogan’s Africa Corps

The Turkish Parliament adopted a motion at an emergency session on January 2, authorising the government to send Turkish troops to Libya for one year.

Published: January 4, 2020, 12:11 pm

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    The ruling AKP party and the nationalist MHP supported the motion, which was voted during an emergency session. The main opposition party CHP and the left-liberal HDP rejected the request.

    Libya was plunged into total chaos following the fall and assassination of leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. There is currently a kind of “dual rule” – a diarchy or duumvirate in the country. The one power centre is a parliament in Tobruk (eastern Libya), which supports General Khalifa Haftar.

    In the west, the “Government of National Accord” (GNA) in Tripoli rules, which is supported by the United Nations. The GNA was founded on 17 December 2015 with the help of the UN and legalised by the Libyan political agreement signed in Skhirat (Morocco). The agreement was aimed at rebuilding the country, fighting terrorism in the region and creating a constitution for Libya.

    All the pursuant objectives failed, and at the same time, according to the agreements, the mandate of the GNA was only legally valid for a year. In case of failure of the constitution (which had to be submitted to the House of Representatives in Tobruk), the mandate would automatically have been extended for another year.

    This shows that the GNA was a legal entity until December 2017 in accordance with the Libyan political agreement. Due to the complicated situation in Libya, the involvement of various countries in the conflict, which used various political and religious groups as proxies (including terrorists and clans and tribes connected to them) to represent their interests, the situation developed into a deep crisis.

    This did not allow for the creation of a new constitution and had undermined the position of the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayiz as-Saraj. Sarraj tried to secure his control over Tripoli. This was a difficult mission, as many groups in the GNA bloc were pursuing their own diplomatic line – in alliance with other foreign forces.

    A good example of this is the so-called Mahjub Brigade of Misrata: experts Jalel Harchaoui and Mohamed-Essaïd Lazib described the tricky situation as follows: “In 2017, Mahjub commanders were among a delegation that met with the Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha. The Defence Minister of the GNA and other Libyan state officials rejected the move on the grounds that it was tantamount to Misrata’s own foreign policy. Moreover, the move came just a week after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced their blockade of Qatar.”

    The escalation of the conflict between the opposition military leader Khalifa Haftar and Sarraj intensified.

    In April 2019, Haftar launched a military operation against Tripoli. In December 2019 he declared that he would take control of Tripoli by New Year’s Eve. This plan failed, but with Turkey signing a memorandum of military cooperation with Sarraj in November 2019, a new geopolitical player suddenly appeared in the North African land of chaos.

    Syrian experts are certain that at least 1 600 terrorists from the Syrian-Arab region are in Turkish camps, where they are being prepared and trained to be sent to Libya to support the forces of the GNA.

    According to sources in Turkey, about 2 000 Syrian fighters were shipped from Turkey to Libya from Mersin in the second half of October 2019. The Turkish cargo ship Medcon Sinop was used for this transport.

    Already in May of the same year, the ship Amazon had delivered armored vehicles to Tripoli, and later the use of unmanned combat drones – possibly of Turkish origin – was confirmed by GNA forces.

    The Amazon notably carried MRAP Kirpi II and Vuran armored vehicles on board.

    On 20 June 2019, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Ankara was indeed violating the UN embargo and selling weapons and equipment to the GNA. And on June 22, the Arab media reported on Turkey’s new arms shipment to Libya, citing a high-ranking Libyan military source.

    The UN group of experts noted that the Amazon had, in addition to the armored vehicles, delivered the first shipment of four Bayraktar TB2 reconnaissance drones to Libya, manufactured by the Turkish company Baykar Makina.

    Information that Turkey is moving Syrian terrorists to Libya became known in April 2019 after the Libyan National Army, under the command of the GNA, launched the next phase of the “Al-Karama” anti-terrorist operation. Jihadist groups were on their way to Tripoli and Misrata to strengthen the armed groups of the GNA.

    According to sources in Istanbul, there were possible dispatches of Syrian terrorist groups from Istanbul (members of the so-called “Free Syrian Army”). Also, the fighters of the company SADAT International Defense Consultancy Inc. (known as “Erdogan’s private army”) were sighted in the Tripoli region.

    The latest news from Turkey confirmed that the Turkish government had organized a transfer of more than 1 000 fighters of the “Free Syrian Army” to Libya on December 29 and 30, 2019. The coordination of the transport of the terrorist groups was taken over by Fahim Eisa, the military leader of the Sultan Mura Division.

    And the flights from Gaziantep airport had been carried out under the strictest veil of secrecy.

    The timing as well as planning show that Turkey had already been active in providing military support to GNA forces before the decision to send Turkish military groups to Libya was ratified by Parliament.

    The question arises as to the motivation of the Turks to engage in the Libyan conflict.

    By doing so, perhaps Erdogan is killing two birds with one stone: he is pursuing his geopolitical ambitions of his so-called “neo-Ottoman” policy and at the same time getting rid of the terrorist groups stationed in Turkey, whose presence in Turkey has caused increasing unease among the Turkish population.

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    • LuciusAnnaeusSeneca

      This is a very insightful, fact-filled article that gives readers an excellent background to the current situation in Libya, and important details on Turkey’s interests and role to date. Hopefully it will get a lot of readers in Washington DC. The movers and shakers there might finally be realizing what Erdogan’s venture in Libya, if brought to fruition, might do, in stopping Haftar’s effort to unify Libya. That would be a setback for peace and order not only in northeast Africa, but in the Sahara and Sahel region as well.

      First, it would mean that the GNA government will continue to allow ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other jihadists to operate at will in Libya, and thus keep the Sahara and Sahel in flames. And maybe West Africa as well. Turkey has no problem,as noted in this article, with working with jihadists, as the case of Syria well illustrates. But if Erdogan’s agenda prevails, Haftar would be even more hard-pressed to suppress the jihadists, than he has been doing for some time now.

      Second, the Tripoli coast will be allowed to continue to be used by organized criminal groups that run the bases for launching the “migrant express” toward Italy and the rest of Europe. As is the case with the jihadists, Haftar would close this down this opportunity to rid Europe of this pestiferous activity. Indeed. Erdogan probably wishes, by controlling the Tripoli coast and its “migrant express”, to pose a double threat to Europe, from not just Turkey via Greece and the Balkans to EU countries, but from Libya to Italy and beyond as well.

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