Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said that Turkish forces had begun deploying to Libya after parliament approved the move last week.
“Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation centre there. Our soldiers are gradually going right now,” he told CNN Turk broadcaster during an interview, according to AFP.
The Turkish parliament passed a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya, aimed at shoring up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
The Tripoli government has come under sustained attack since militia leader Khalifa Haftar launched his offensive in April.
At least 30 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on a military academy in the Libyan capital late on Saturday, the health ministry of the Tripoli-based government said in a statement on Sunday.
Haftar is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while the UN-backed government has the support of Ankara and its ally Qatar.
Erdogan said Turkey’s objective was “not to fight” but “to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy”.
He added that Turkey would not be deploying its own combat forces. “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.
Middle East Eye reported late last month that Turkey would send Syrian rebel fighters in Libya. Ankara had reached out to several allied Syrian rebel groups about the deployment, a senior Syrian opposition source told MEE.
A Turkish source said that the Sultan Murad Division, an armed group made up of Syrian Turkmen fighters, was among the groups set to go to Libya.
The Syrian opposition source said that the Suqour al-Sham Brigades had already accepted the plan and transferred some of its forces to Turkey ahead of deployment. Faylaq al-Sham, a rebel group with close ties to Ankara, was expected to take the lead.
Senior Turkish military personnel would coordinate the “fighting force”, Erdogan said, sharing their experience and information to support Tripoli.
Turkey’s move comes after the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord made a formal request for military support.
Libya and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in November last year, angering Mediterranean countries including Greece and Cyprus who also seek to exploit energy resources in the region.