Franco-Turkish dispute over Turkey’s military presence in Libya


Published on Monday, 22 November 2021 Back to articles

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said that France’s President Emmanuel Macron’s demand that all Turkish formal and informal forces should withdraw was ‘disrespectful to the sovereignty of Turkey and Libya.’ He justified Ankara’s military presence by correctly insisting that its forces are in Libya at the invitation of the international recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). Macron reiterated these comments during the Libya summit meeting in Paris on 12 November. The participants echoed the importance of holding presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 December and called for the full implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement and the related Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters, and foreign forces (Libya Politics & Security – 15.11.21).

Turkey has been at odds with several of Mediterranean countries — including France, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel — over its role in Libya ever since the late 2019 Memorandums of Understanding signed with the GNA including a controversial maritime border agreement. Despite Ankara’s recent attempts to achieve a rapprochement with Cairo and Abu Dhabi, relations with its regional enemies have remained very hostile. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that he would not participate in Paris if Greece, Cyprus, and Israel were invited. In the end — although Greece and Cyprus were both present and despite the presence of many presidents and premiers — Ankara was only represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal. Meanwhile, on 19 November, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias called Turkey the ‘common denominator’ to threats in the Mediterranean, including instability in Libya.

Like Russia which has hundreds of Wagner Group mercenaries in the country and has supplied sophisticated weapons to the Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), Turkey has deployed hundreds of troops and thousands of mainly Syrian mercenaries to Libya. It has secured key military bases including the strategically important Al-Watiya airbase to the southwest of Tripoli. Both Ankara and Moscow are determined to maintain their gains in Libya, or at least not surrender them unilaterally. Therefore, although about 2,000 Syrian mercenaries have reportedly been returned home, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) believes that Turkey intends to keep some there. 

This excerpt is taken from Libya Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on Libya. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

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