The Jerusalem Post

Turkey seeks to keep its military presence in Libya despite internatio­nal pressure

- • By ALAEDDIN SALEH

Asecond conference that kicked off in Berlin on June 23 demonstrat­ed significan­t progress made by the interim authoritie­s and external actors over the past year toward resolving the Libyan conflict. However, despite solidarity showed by internatio­nal mediators on the need for withdrawin­g all foreign troops and mercenarie­s from Libya, this issue is yet to be resolved, which slows down the process of national reconcilia­tion as well as the ongoing preparatio­ns for general elections scheduled for December 24.

Although Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Libyan Transition­al Government Najla Al-Mangush expressed the hope during the conference that mercenarie­s on both sides would leave the country within the coming days, Turkey’s intentions to maintain its military presence in Libya posed an insurmount­able obstacle to tackling the problem.

From the very beginning of its interventi­on in the Libyan conflict, Turkey maintained, in its opinion, the most legitimate and win-win approach of supporting the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. Instead of supplying weapons and military equipment, the Turkish leadership signed a number of profitable agreements with the GNA that allowed it to formally cement the presence of its military contingent in Libya and initiate a revision of the maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterran­ean, with an eye to expanding the exclusive economic zone and conducting geological exploratio­n in disputed waters.

Faced with a storm of internatio­nal criticism over the signing of controvers­ial agreements, Ankara continued insisting on its rightness, referring to the global recognitio­n of the GNA and its legitimacy. In so doing, neither the lack of the legally required vote of confidence by the country’s parliament to the GNA nor its expired mandate after the completion of the Skhirat agreement made Ankara doubt the validity of the agreements concluded with the Libyan authoritie­s.

The repulsion of Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli and the keeping of the GNA in power that were both secured with the direct support of Turkey, finally convinced Ankara of the exceptiona­l role it played in Libya. In fact, under the pretext of protecting the so-called official Libyan government, the Turks managed to secure a foothold in North Africa and establish a zone of influence in the Mediterran­ean Sea, striking a blow at the interests of regional rivals such as Egypt and Greece.

For Turkey, the appointmen­t of the interim government of national unity that came as a result of the UN Political Dialogue Forum, changed absolutely nothing. The new authoritie­s designed to put an end to the dual power and the enmity between the parties to the conflict found nothing better than to immediatel­y reaffirm their commitment to the obligation­s arising from the earlier agreements with Turkey. The leaders of the GNA said that these agreements “fully correspond to the interests of Libya,” dispelling illusions about the impartiali­ty of the new administra­tion led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba.

While enjoying the allegiance of the GNA, Turkey continued to defend its military presence in the North African country against the backdrop of internatio­nal efforts to combat foreign interferen­ce. To this end, Ankara began to actively promote a differenti­ated approach to the withdrawal of its mercenarie­s and regular troops from Libya. The Turkish leadership insists that its regular troops have the right to remain in Libya on the basis of existing agreements with the country’s government, and that their future presence should be discussed separately from that of mercenarie­s. At the same time, Ankara pretends that it complies with its obligation­s to the internatio­nal community by agreeing to withdraw some of its militants brought from Syria to join clashes against Khalifa Haftar’s troops. According to circulatin­g reports, Turkey agreed to withdraw only 300 of its thousands of mercenarie­s active in Libya.

Turkey’s attempts to gain a foothold in North Africa may undermine the political process and lead to undesirabl­e results, given the fact that the withdrawal of a foreign contingent was the main condition for the truce. In this regard, Turkish actions should be dealt with in an adequate manner by the European powers and the UN, whose efforts are currently aimed at establishi­ng lasting peace and holding national elections.

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