Turkey’s Erdoğan downplays death of Turkish troops in Libya - columnist

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dismissive comments on the deaths of Turkish soldiers in Libya will not be received well by his own supporters, columnist İhsan Çaralan wrote for the Evrensel newspaper on Monday.

Erdoğan said on Saturday that Turkey had killed some 100 fighters from Libyan General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), “in return for a few martyrs”.  

One of the Turkish soldiers was a colonel, Çaralan said in his article, repeating a previous report by Yeniçağ newspaper that official sources have not confirmed. 

The LNA says it has killed a total of 16 Turkish soldiers since their deployment in Libya this year and destroyed a Turkish cargo ship carrying arms and ammunition, which Ankara denies.  

Turkey deployed troops in Libya as trainers and advisers in January to support the Tripoli-based, U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) against an LNA offensive on the Libyan capital that began last year.

With news of losses starting to come in, Erdoğan has put forth a narrative of martyrdom “to prevent the dissolution in his own base at least,” the article said, “clearly displaying the jihadist, pro-conquest mentality behind neo-Ottoman policies.”

Erdoğan has started to talk about declaring war on Syria, abandoning a previous stance of respecting Syria’s territorial integrity, and admitted to Turkey fighting Haftar with Turkish soldiers and Syrian recruits.

Having previously said senior Turkish officials had been sent to Libya for coordination purposes, Erdoğan said on Saturday that Turkey was in Libya “with our valiant soldiers and our Syrian National Army units”. 

Turkey has deployed more than 3,000 Syrian fighters in Libya, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The ideological cover Erdoğan has assumed dates back to 7th century Islamic conquests, the article said, adding that the praise of martyrdom has since been a dominant concept in religious wars, popularised in contemporary times by the likes of Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.