Turkey Pivots to Tripoli: Implications for Libya’s Civil War and U.S. Policy

Soner Cagaptay, Ben Fishman
Content Type
Policy Brief
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Facing pressure from General Haftar and his foreign military backers, the Tripoli government has welcomed the helping hand extended by Ankara, whose own lack of regional options has drawn it into the middle of another conflict. On December 10, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he was willing to deploy troops in Libya if the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli requested it. He reiterated the offer during a December 15 meeting with GNA prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Ankara—a visit that arose after Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and seeks to replace the GNA, renewed his push to take Tripoli by force. Meanwhile, Turkey signed two controversial agreements with Tripoli over the past month: a memorandum of understanding on providing the GNA with arms, training, and military personnel, formally ratified by Tripoli earlier today; and a November 28 maritime agreement delineating exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean waters separating the two countries. The latter move drew protests from Greece and Egypt and was condemned “unequivocally” by the European Council. These and other developments indicate Libya’s emerging status as a focal point of Ankara’s foreign policy, which seemingly regards the country as an arena for Turkish proxy competition with rivals old (Greece) and new (Egypt and the United Arab Emirates). At the same time, Libya’s GNA has become increasingly dependent on Ankara for military reasons—namely, a lack of other allies willing to provide arms capable of countering the LNA’s Emiratisupplied drones, and the arrival of Russian mercenaries who have added new technology and precision to Haftar’s war against Tripoli. Unless Washington invests more diplomatic energy and fully backs the German-led initiative to implement a ceasefire and return to peace negotiations, the proxy war in Libya will only escalate. In that scenario, Turkey and Russia—not the United States or its European partners—could be become the arbiters of Libya’s future.
Foreign Policy, Civil War, Military Affairs, Geopolitics
Political Geography
Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, United States of America