ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will increase its military support to the internationally recognized government of Libya if necessary and it will evaluate ground, air and marine options, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, after the two sides signed a military cooperation accord last month.
Turkey backs Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, which has been torn by factional conflict since 2011, and has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations arms embargo, according to a report by U.N. experts seen by Reuters last month.
Turkey has also said it could deploy troops to Libya if the GNA makes such a request. The GNA has been fighting a months-long offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces based in the east of the country. Haftar’s forces have received support from Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
“If necessary, we will increase the military aspect of our support to Libya, and evaluate all our options, from the ground, air and sea,” Erdogan said at an event in the northern province of Kocaeli.
Speaking before Erdogan, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey will stand by Libya’s government until peace, stability and security are established in the country.
Last month, Turkey and the GNA signed an agreement to boost military cooperation and a separate deal on maritime boundaries, which has enraged Greece. Ankara and Athens have been at odds over hydrocarbon resources off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus.
While Greece has said the accord violates international law, Turkey has rejected those accusations, saying it aims to protect its rights in the eastern Mediterranean. On Sunday, Erdogan said Turkey will “absolutely” not turn back from its agreements with Libya.
“Nobody should come to us with attempts to exclude us, trap us in our own shores or steal our economic interests,” Erdogan said. “We have no intention of starting conflicts with anyone for no reason, or robbing anyone of their rights,” he said.
In a first reaction from the United States on the agreement, a senior U.S. State Department official said the maritime accord was “unhelpful” and “provocative.”
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alexandra Hudson