Ankara will build a base in Libya’s Tripoli after completing its expansion in Qatar, where around 5,000 troops have been stationed since the Saudi-led blockade on the Gulf state.
According to the head of the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command (QTCJFC), Colonel Osman İlercil, the presence of Turkish military in the tiny emirate is aimed at boosting their defence capabilities as well as sharing knowledge, experience and Turkish culture.
The new base in Libya is expected to replicate the strategic move, which will allow Turkey to provide greater support for the internationally-recognised government of Fayez al-Sarraj.
Local media on Monday reported Turkey had already started to prepare and provide necessary equipment to support the government in Libya.
Military sources revealed to local paper Yeni Shafak that the government asked the Turkish armed forces to equip ships and warplanes in preparation for the transfer of Turkish forces to Libya.
The military sources confirmed that the transfer process to the city of Tripoli has begun, and the ships that will transport the drones, tanks, special forces and commando units.
Sources also revealed cargo planes and helicopters have been prepared and alerted to take off towards Misrata Airport, which is under the control of Sarraj’s National Accord Government in Libya.
The closed-door meeting, which was not on Erdogan’s official agenda, took place in Istanbul’s Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, the Turkish presidency said without giving details.
During the previous meeting between the two men in Istanbul on November 27, the two countries agreed a deal on security and military cooperation, as well as maritime jurisdiction.
The deal came despite calls from the Arab League – which includes Libya – to end cooperation with Turkey in protest at its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.
Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE back Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya who launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize Tripoli from fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA), of which Sarraj is the prime minister.
Turkey and Qatar openly support the UN-recognised GNA.
The November military deal was introduced in the Turkish parliament on Saturday.
The maritime part of the deal expands Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is particularly important given the recent discovery of vast gas reserves that has triggered an exploration scramble between adjacent states and international oil companies.
The Turkey-Libya agreement was strongly condemned by several countries, including Greece and Cyprus.
Erdogan declared on Tuesday that Turkey is prepared to send troops into Libya if requested.
When asked about sending troops during a television interview late on Sunday, he said that “Turkey alone will decide what initiative to take”.
“I have already said that we were ready to provide all sorts of help to Libya,” Erdogan added.
In another sign of the Turkey-Libya rapprochement, Ankara announced on Saturday that Libyans younger than 16 or older than 55 would be allowed to enter Turkey without visas.
Strongman Haftar on Thursday announced a “decisive battle” to wrest Tripoli from the GNA government.
GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha responded by saying his government was ready “to push back any mad attempt by the Haftar putsch leader”.