Why Turkey resists withdrawing from Libya – ex-foreign minister

Turkey is resisting pulling its military forces from Libya until the situation in the war-torn country fully stabilises after parliamentary elections due in December, former Turkish foreign minister Yaşar Yakış said.

“Unity and the territorial integrity of Libya have implications for Turkey beyond the withdrawal of its military presence,” Yakış said on Sunday in an article for Arab News. He pointed to a 2019 maritime accord signed between Turkey and the U.N.-recognised interim Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli that could be threatened by renewed fighting in the country.

Turkey’s military assistance helped defeat an attack by opposition forces on Tripoli in April 2019. The opposition may resume its advance if Turkey pulls out Yakış said.

“If this happens, we may be back to square one in the Libyan civil war,” he said.

“It is difficult to tell what type of political atmosphere will emerge after Libyan parliamentary elections in December,” Yakış said. “Turkey wants to maintain its military presence in Libya at least until the situation stabilises and a well-trained, professional army is created by the government formed after the elections.”

On Monday last week, Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of Libya’s interim government, called on the Turkish government to withdraw military forces from the country ahead of the elections.

“We call on Turkey to cooperate with us to end the presence of all foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya,” al-Manqoush said at a press conference alongside her Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Tripoli.

A ceasefire agreement signed between the GNA and opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) in October foresees a permanent end to the fighting that began after Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. It requires the withdrawal of all military personnel, foreign mercenaries and armed proxies that were recruited, financed, deployed, and supported in Libya, a request backed by the U.N. and western governments.

The Turkey and Qatar-backed GNA and the LNA, supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, are receiving help from an estimated 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries.

Ankara and the GNA signed the maritime deal in November 2019. It lays claim to a common sea border, ignoring territorial waters around Cyprus and a number of Greek islands including Crete. Turkey has used the accord to lay claim to hydrocarbon resources in the area.

Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have strongly objected to the agreement and called on Libya to abolish it.