As Rivals Fight for Control of Libya, Erdogan Says Turkey May Jump In

LONDON — The struggle for control of Libya threatened to innovate further this week since Turkey said it could intervene to block the Russian-backed forces currently closing in about Tripoli, the capital.

In remarks to Turkish television programs on Monday night and on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointedly raised the possibility that Turkey could send troops to counter the Russians when the United Nations-recognized authorities headquartered in Tripoli officially requested it.

“In case of such an invitation,” Turkey will pick itself about the type of initiative to tackle,” Mr. Erdogan stated Monday. On Monday and Tuesday he referred explicitly into the chance of”sending soldiers” or”our employees.”

Mr. Erdogan, for political and commercial reasons, has emerged since the last important patron of this beleaguered Tripoli government. His frank discussion of a fresh military intervention underscored the perilousness of this situation now confronting the Tripoli government, which will be under a tightening siege by Russian forces backing the militia leader Khalifa Hifter.

Officials of Tripoli’s so-called Authorities of National Accord immediately accepted Mr. Erdogan’s offer. “The G.N.A. welcomes ALL global support,” Mohamed Ali Abdullah, an advisor for United States events into the Tripoli government, composed in a text message.

Libya is a strategic decoration with huge oil reserves and also a very long Mediterranean shore.

However eight years after a NATO intervention helped topple Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi during the Arab Spring revolt, the country remains mired in chaos. The bedlam has turned its beaches into a departure point for tens of thousands of Europe-bound migrants and its deserts into a haven for bands of militant extremists.

Turkey, in part because of its rivalry with the Emirati-Egyptian-Saudi bloc in a regional cold war, has become the only significant military backer of the Tripoli government.

The United States, along with the other Western powers, also publicly supports the Tripoli government and a United Nations-sponsored peace process on the unity government, but only Turkey has provided military support.

Washington, in practice, has sent mixed signals.

United States officials, who say the Russian forces in Libya now include uniformed troops as well as mercenaries, have called their presence “incredibly destabilizing” and warned of “the specter of large-scale casualties among the civilian population.”

But the National Security Council official overseeing Libya, Victoria Coates, met with Mr. Hifter two weeks ago to discuss peace talks, granting him a new level of recognition from the White House.

When Mr. Hifter began his advance, in April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement condemning the assault on Tripoli, but the White House released a statement days later saying President Trump had called Mr. Hifter to commend his fight against “terrorism.”

This week, United States military officials said that they believed a Russian air defense system installed in Libya had brought down an American surveillance drone. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, chief of the United States Africa Command, said in a statement on Monday that the forces that brought down the drone had not realized it was American.

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