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Turkey to Soon Back Sending Troops to Libya at Its Request

Selcan Hacaoglu, Taylan Bilgic and Samer Khalil Al-Atrush

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s government will ask parliament in early January to authorize the deployment of troops to Libya, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, after the internationally recognized administration in Tripoli agreed to formally request help.

The legislative motion will be the government’s “first act” after parliament returns from its recess on Jan. 7, Erdogan said Thursday in Ankara.

“We’ll go where we’re invited, and won’t go where we aren’t,” he said, predicting the motion will be passed within two days. “Currently, as there’s an invitation, we’ll accept.”

The Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj officially agreed on Thursday to ask for Turkish ground, aerial and naval support as it battles the forces of rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, a senior official said on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a sensitive topic.

Turkey has said its troops would be sent to train fighters loyal to Sarraj, but that they will be meant as a deterrent and not as an active force fighting Haftar. Terms of the deployment will also include:

establishment of an elite Libyan force to respond immediately to threatsallocation of ground, sea and air vehicles, and weaponsjoint exercisesexchange of counterterrorism information, intelligence and operational cooperation

The two administrations have also recently cooperated on maritime issues serving both countries’ energy interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

Tripoli Offensive

Erdogan had signaled on Wednesday that the dispatch of Turkish troops to the North African nation was only a matter of time, saying recent commitments between the countries should be seen as a “harbinger of steps” to follow.

He’s repeatedly discussed the possibility of sending troops to help Sarraj’s government battle Haftar, who was able to renew his stalled offensive on the capital and make gains following the September entry of Russian mercenaries linked to President Vladimir Putin.

Haftar already controls most of Libya’s oil facilities, as well as chunks of territory in the country’s east and south. The deployment of the Russian mercenaries since September has further complicated international efforts to end the fighting.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and U.S President Donald Trump discussed the Libyan conflict on a call Thursday. According to a statement from the White House, the two leaders “rejected foreign exploitation and agreed that parties must take urgent steps to resolve the conflict before Libyans lose control to foreign actors.”

Libya has been wracked by violence ever since the NATO-backed ouster of Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, with an administration rivaling Sarraj’s and allied with Haftar based in the eastern city of Tobruk. The instability in the divided country has made it a magnet for both Islamist radicals and migrants hoping to reach Europe.

Last week, the Turkish parliament approved a pact to defend Sarraj’s administration. In return, it won Libya’s accession to a contentious maritime agreement that affirms Turkey’s claims to areas where a planned pipeline to bring Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to Europe may cross.

Turkey has controlled northern Cyprus since sending troops there in 1974 after a failed attempt to united the island with Greece, and it wants a share of Cyprus’s gas revenue. The pact with Libya angered Greece, and it plans next week to sign an agreement with Cyprus and Israel to build the pipeline as it confronts Turkey over maritime rights.

(Updates to add Trump’s call with El-Sisi in 10th paragraph)

--With assistance from Mohammed Abdusamee, Jordan Fabian and Zaid Sabah.

To contact the reporters on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net;Taylan Bilgic in Istanbul at tbilgic2@bloomberg.net;Samer Khalil Al-Atrush in Cairo at skhalilalatr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Michael Gunn

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