Turkey Ready To Deploy Troops In Libya Against Haftar Offensive: Erdogan

Turkey and Libya have signed an expanded maritime, security and military cooperation agreement which gives Turkey the right to deploy troops there if requested by authorities in Tripoli, President Erdogan has told state-run TRT television in an interview on Monday.

"In the event of such a call coming, it is Turkey's decision what kind of initiative it will take here." Erdogan said, as reported by Reuters. "We will not seek the permission of anyone on this," he underscored.

This at a moment the country is still divided between Gen. Khalifa Haftar's advancing LNA forces and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Turkey has been the most aggressive backer of Tripoli, offering military equipment and even air power, while the UAE has provided most weaponry for Haftar's 'rebel' army in the developing proxy war. While Washington officially recognizes the GNA, the Trump administration has for months verbalized support for Haftar, long seen as the 'CIA's man in Libya'"Haftar is nothing but a pirate," Erdogan said earlier this year after six Turkish sailors were briefly detained by pro-Haftar forces. 

Erdogan also claimed that based on the bilateral memorandum, signed on Nov. 27, Turkish forces entering Libyan territory or waters at the request of the GNA would not be a violation of the UN arms embargo on the war-torn country.

"With this new agreement between Turkey and Libya, we can hold joint exploration operations in these exclusive economic zones that we determined. There is no problem," Erdogan said.

"Other international actors cannot carry out exploration operations in these areas Turkey drew (up) with this accord without getting permission. Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel cannot establish a gas transmission line without first getting permission from Turkey," he warned.

As we reported last week, Turkey appears to be using its close cooperation with Libya's GNA to also expand its eastern Mediterranean claims to oil and gas exploration and drilling.

Over the past year Turkey has sent both oil and gas exploration ships, as well as military transport vessels, into Cypriot waters in the East Mediterranean related to expanded claims based on the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus (since 1974), earning the condemnation of both Nicosia and top EU officials, who have defended EU-Cyprus' interpretation of the conflict. 

Turkey has laid claim to waters extending a whopping 200 miles from its coast, brazenly asserting ownership over a swathe of the Mediterranean that even cuts into Greece's exclusive economic zone.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) receives Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj (L) at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on March 20, 2019. Source: Anadolu Agency

And now Erdogan is clearly ready to use Ankara's ties to Tripoli in order to squeeze out rivals from the eastern Mediterranean and expand the claims from the south:

Speaking in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber, Erdogan said the accord would also allow Turkey to carry out drilling on Libya's continental shelf with Tripoli's approval, and that the deal was in line with international law.

The area where Turkey and Libya have drawn their maritime borders in the accord is not far south of the large Greek island of Crete.

So far Ankara has responded to threats of EU sanctions after it sent ships off EU-member Cyprus' waters by reaffirming its rights to waters of all parts of Cyprus' coast. 

Should the Turkish military attempt to enforce its drilling claims and run up against Cypriot and Greek vessels, it could spark a deadly encounter which would force the EU and reluctant NATO to finally weigh in more forcefully. 

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