Turkey Is Sending Troops to Libya, Erdogan Says

The Turkish president said his country’s Parliament would soon vote on a deployment, adding to an escalating proxy battle among regional powers.

Turkey moved closer to a major military intervention in Libya’s escalating civil war on Thursday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a parliamentary vote that could send troops in a matter of weeks to support the embattled government of the North African country.

Mr. Erdogan wants to counter the Russian-backed forces of the militia leader Khalifa Hifter, who have put the Libyan capital, Tripoli, under siege since April.

Tripoli residents said Thursday that the Russian support appeared to be accelerating the advance of Mr. Hifter’s forces into the city.

Although the size of the planned deployment is unclear, it would signal a far greater role for Turkey — and for Mr. Erdogan — in a chaotic war that had already become a proxy battle among regional powers.

Mr. Erdogan, whose government has supplied armored vehicles and drones to the United Nations-recognized government of Libya, said in early December that his country might send troops, too. But as recently as Wednesday, when he met with Libyan and Tunisian officials in Tunis, he also said that Turkey would intervene only at the request of the government in Tripoli.

On Thursday, he said that a request had come and that Turkey’s Parliament, which his party controls, would consider it on Jan. 8 or 9.

“We do not go where we are not invited. Right now, there is an invitation that we will respond to,” Mr. Erdogan told a meeting of his governing party in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. “If God permits, as soon as the Parliament opens, as the first thing to do, we will present the deployment of troops resolution to our Parliament.”

It was unclear, though, whether the Libyan government actually had formally invited Turkey to send troops. Speaking in Tunis, Libya’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, told reporters on Thursday that the government would request help if the situation deteriorated further.

“If the situation escalates then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents,” Mr. Bashagha said, according to Reuters.

Since the 2011 rebellion that toppled and killed the dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya has been battered and fragmented by factional fighting. Mr. Hifter, a former officer in Colonel el-Qaddafi’s military, spent years trying to overthrow him, including during a long period living in the United States.

Mr. Hifter, who styles himself as a strongman who can restore order to Libya, is backed by the United Arab Emirates and by Egypt, and has received help from France.

On Thursday, President Trump spoke about the war in Libya with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the White House said in a statement. The presidents “rejected foreign exploitation and agreed that parties must take urgent steps to resolve the conflict before Libyans lose control to foreign actors,” the statement said, without specifying those actors.

The White House declined to say anything further on the record, but confirmed on background that the reference to “foreign actors” included Russia.

In Libya, Mr. Hifter’s forces suffered a major setback in June with the loss of a base south of Tripoli, but their fortunes were revived in recent months by the arrival of Russian mercenaries bringing concerted artillery support and sniper fire, all with the Kremlin’s blessing.

“All those are helping a warlord, but we are responding to an invitation of the country’s legitimate government,” Mr. Erdogan said. “This is our difference.”

The Libyan government led by Fayez al-Sarraj has defended itself in Tripoli, but as the battle has deepened in recent months, it has become increasingly reliant on Mr. Erdogan’s backing for survival.

On Saturday, the Turkish Parliament ratified a new security and military cooperation deal with Mr. al-Sarraj’s government.

“We have given and will give all forms of support to the Tripoli government,” Mr. Erdogan said.

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