Turks reluctant to follow Erdogan’s Libya policies
ISTANBUL – As Turkey starts the deployment of its troops in Libya, voters at home are reluctant to follow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aggressive policies in the eastern Mediterranean.
Erdogan said Sunday that the country was sending its military units to Libya, where Ankara is supporting the embattled UN-recognized government in Tripoli. Speaking in an interview with the CNN-Turk news channel, Erdogan said that Turkish soldiers were “already going gradually” to Libya to help the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez Sarraj. He said Turkish soldiers were tasked with “coordination” at a command centre.
The GNA, which has the support of militant groups and armed militias, last month requested Turkish support to try to thwart an offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, while the UN-backed government has the support of Ankara and its ally Qatar.
Turkey’s parliament authorized the deployment of troops to Libya last Thursday, following a separate deal on sending military experts and weapons signed into law in December. “Our aim is to keep the legitimate government [in Libya] on its feet,” Erdogan said. He called Haftar a “putschist”.
But a new poll suggests Erdogan’s arguments have failed to convince Turkish voters. Most Turks supported their country’s military intervention in neighbouring Syria because they saw the actions as steps to counter threats to national security, but many appear to view the deployment in Libya differently.
The survey, by the MetroPoll firm, found that 49.7 per cent of voters are against sending Turkish soldiers to Libya, while 37.7 per cent support the government’s plan. The figures suggest that the troop deployment is not backed by all supporters of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its right-wing partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Polls say AKP and MHP combined have about 50 per cent of voters behind them.
Opposition politicians have warned that the Libya deployment could end in disaster for Turkey. Lawmaker Unal Celikoz from the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), called the parliamentary bill giving Erdogan the right to send troops to Libya a potential “catastrophe”.
“The government is about to put Turkey into great danger with this decision,” Cevikoz told parliament during the debate last Thursday.
Erdogan’s critics also pointed to reports saying that the Turkish government is sending Syrian militants to Libya and promising Turkish passports as a reward.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said on Twitter sources inside Turkish-backed Syrian factions had told her “that in exchange for fighting in Libya, fighters are being promised Turkish citizenship after 6 months of deployment”.
“Multiple commanders in the factions received Turkish citizenship & passports over the past month,” Tsurkov tweeted.
Abdulatif Sener, a former Erdogan aide who is now a lawmaker for the CHP, commented that the government was giving “a lot of money and Turkish citizenship to people who are not right in the head”.
Erdogan fuelled speculation about the dispatching of Syrian rebels by telling CNN-Turk that Turkey would not be deploying its own combat forces to Libya.
“Right now, we will have different units serving as a combatant force,” he said, without giving details on who the fighters would be and where they would come from. Senior Turkish military personnel would coordinate the “fighting force”, Erdogan explained, sharing their experience and information to support Tripoli.
According to recent news reports, Turkey its dispatching members of pro-Turkish militias in Syria and mercenary elements to fight in Libya.
Sources within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) told Reuters that an undetermined number of fighters had signed up, on “an individual basis,” to work as “bodyguards” for a Turkish “security company” in Libya.