Turkish parliament approves sending troops to Libya

(Releads with vote results, updates throughout)

The Turkish parliament on Thursday approved sending troops to support the United Nations-backed Libyan government, which is besieged in the capital Tripoli by the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Jordan.

The bill passed by 325 votes to 185 in a session the government brought forward by six days due to what it said was the urgency of the issue. The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) requested military support as part of a deal it signed with Turkey on Nov. 27.

The bill allows the Turkish government to deploy troops to Libya at any time in the next year. It says Haftar’s forces have threatened Turkey, and that further escalations of the conflict could harm Turkish interests across North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said the decision to deploy military forces in Libya would depend on the level of violence in the country, which has been mired in conflict since NATO air strikes helped rebels overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

“This is totally related to the situation there. We are ready,” Oktay told state-run Anadolu news agency.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was backed by its far-right allies in parliament, but unlike the October campaign against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, this deployment has aroused considerable pushback from opposition parties.

The secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) vehemently opposes sending troops to Libya, while Meral Akşener, the head of the smaller opposition nationalist Good Party, told a meeting of her parliamentary party that Turkey had no business risking the lives of its soldiers in a far-off civil war.

“We believe the bill will create a threat to Turkey's national security, that it could lead to the needless deaths of Turkish soldiers, that the deployment of fighting forces to a land 2,000 km away is problematic and wrong, and that involvement in another Arab civil war like Syria will not benefit the country,” she said.

Speaking in parliament, CHP lawmaker Aykut Ünal Çeviköz said the bill did not touch on security, but instead talked of Turkey’s national interests without defining what they were. He said the bill was full of contradictions and contrary to the country’s constitution and its United Nations obligations.

“You’re setting out on a military operation, but your political objectives are unclear,” he said.

Sending troops, he said, would escalate the situation by encouraging states already backing Haftar to increase their military support for him, and this could drag Turkey into conflicts with regional countries.

AKP lawmaker İsmet Yılmaz, the head of parliament’s national defence commission, said told the debate the bill did not contradict U.N. Security Council decisions since a resolution in December 2015 had endorsed the GNA as Libya’s legitimate administration.

Turkey’s decision to send troops to Libya had already made other countries embroiled in the Libyan conflict begin discussing a peaceful solution, Yılmaz said.

“Turkey is never alone,” he said. “Turkey is strong. Turkey is respected.” 

According to U.N. figures published last month, clashes around Tripoli have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters since April, while more than 140,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.