Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkish troops are being deployed in Libya.
In a question and answer session with journalists that was broadcast on CNN Turk and Kanal D, Erdogan said: “Our soldiers are leaving [for Libya] now.”
Erdogan’s comments that troops were being deployed follows last week’s vote by Turkey’s parliament, which passed a motion allowing the deployment of troops in Libya for one year in support of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
Erdogan was quoted by the Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk as saying: “The aim is to ensure the survival of the legitimate government. The aim of the cease-fire in Libya is not to fight there. It is, on the one hand, to support the legitimate government and to prevent human tragedies.”
Asked whether Turkey was sending troops to Libya to search for oil in the Eastern Mediterranean, he replied: “That’s the way we move. Currently, we have such an offer from Libya to us. We go there in response to demand.”
In November, Turkey and Libya’s GNA signed a deal in which the two agreed that the two countries’ exclusive economic zone stretches from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast in the Eastern Mediterranean as they plan to carry out joint natural gas drilling operations in the disputed waters.
Erdogan did not provide further details on the deployment.
On Saturday, a military academy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli was attacked, leaving 30 dead and another 33 wounded.
The attack was blamed on Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
While LNA spokesman denied any involvement, GNA officials announced it was an aerial bombing “launched” by Haftar’s forces.
They further claimed that attackers did not let ambulance service do first aid in the scene despite the calls for a temporary ceasefire.
Controlled by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), the Libyan capital has been a target by Haftar’s forces since April.
The GNA Foreign Ministry vowed to refer their eastern rivals to the International Criminal Court on charges of committing “crimes against humanity.”
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemned the attack by saying it threatened “the chance to return to the political process.”
Early on Sunday, GNA allied forces targeted the LNA airbase of Al Wattia in response to the attack, according to Reuters, in which four pro-Haftar fighters were killed.
Ankara on Sunday “strongly condemned” the airstrike in the south of Tripoli and urged the international community “to take the necessary steps as soon as possible to stop the attacks” by Haftar’s forces.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a statement called for an end to “external support provided to Haftar.”
The country has been in turmoil after Libya’s strong man Muammar Qaddafi, was toppled after more than 40 years in power.
Among the two seats of power that have emerged in Libya, Haftar, in the east, is supported by many countries, including Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
And the GNA in Tripoli has the support of the UN, Turkey, and Qatar.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April to capture Tripoli, which resulted in more than 1,000 casualties, according to the UN mission in Libya.
On Friday, the capital’s only functioning airport shut down due to rockets and shelling.
While the United Nations warned the international community about not delivering external support to warring parties in fear of deepening the ongoing conflict, Ankara is determined to deploy military power in the country.
The state-run news agency Anadolu published a report claiming that “Tripoli residents await Turkish soldiers,” in the aftermath of the latest attacks.
The pro-Haftar chamber, on the other hand, held votes against the GNA and Turkey after two signed the agreement on maritime boundaries and military cooperation in November.
Haftar appeared on television on Friday and called Libyans to take up arms in response to Turkey’s planned military intervention.
“We accept the challenge and declare jihad and a call to arms,” he said, denouncing the motion passed by Turkey’s parliament.
Saudi Arabia has labeled Ankara’s move as “interference in the internal affairs of an Arab country,” and the foreign ministry condemned “the recent Turkish escalation in Libya.”
Various countries, including Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, also harshly criticized Turkey over its Libya plan.
Writing by Zubeyir Koculu, Editing by Giordano Stolley