Turkey has confirmed that its troop presence in Libya will remain in place pending Libyan government approval and the status of the 2019 Ankara-Tripoli bilateral military agreement.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin confirmed the decision in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.
On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Turkey is preparing to send new Syrian mercenaries to Libya amid international calls for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters in the country.
The presence of thousands of Turkish-affiliated troops in Libya is stirring debate about the success of the interim government in the transitional process taking place under the watch of the UN.
Experts have warned that foreign intervention risks undermining the work of the UN Support Mission in Libya to end fighting between the country’s warring factions.
Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said Turkey’s role in Libya has given it leverage over the outcome of the conflict and a potential political settlement.
“Turkey violated an arms embargo by shipping drones and weapons to Libya. The question now is whether Turkey’s involvement will cement a political solution or continue to frustrate it,” he told Arab News.
The Libyan cease-fire agreement signed on Oct. 23 last year calls for a withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces stationed in the country within three months.
However, Turkey claims that its troops are providing military training to units loyal to Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, and has rejected calls for a withdrawal, despite the expiration of the deadline.
About 1,300 Libyan soldiers recently completed Turkish-led training.
“Ankara’s overall goal in the Middle East and North Africa is to partition countries into spheres of influence and then export weapons and mercenaries, while dividing the spoils with Russia and largely ignoring local people,” Frantzman said.
“Libya appears to be on the cusp of more peace, with buy-ins from Egypt and other countries,” he added.
Turkish companies are also expected to take part in rebuilding infrastructure in the war-torn country, which experts have said is a strong signal of Ankara’s intentions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last Tuesday that Turkey would withdraw its troops “only if other countries withdraw their troops first.”
Frantzman said: “For Turkey to play a positive role in stability, it needs to work with Egypt and other countries, rather than appear at odds with most of the region. Sidelining militias and extremists is key to that.”
In late January, the US called for an immediate withdrawal of Turkish and Russian troops from Libya. The warning came a month after a motion passed through the Turkish parliament authorizing an 18-month extension of troop deployment in Libya.
On Friday, French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian also repeated calls for a withdrawal of mercenaries and an end to political interference in Libya.