Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Libya Conflict: Turkey Confirms First Soldiers Killed
BBC World Service

Two Turkish soldiers have been killed in Libya, the first casualties the nation has confirmed since it sent troops to the oil-rich state.

"We have two martyrs in Libya," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, without giving further details.

Last month, Turkey sent soldiers and Syrian fighters to Libya to bolster the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

The capital has been under a 10-month-long siege by forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

His Libyan National Army (LNA) is backed by Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while the government in Tripoli is supported by Turkey and its ally Qatar.

Turkey signed a military co-operation deal with the Tripoli-based government last year, opening the way for the deployment of troops.

Turkey has also sent fighters from the Syrian National Army rebel group to the North African state.

"Our brothers who are with us in Syria see being there with us as an honour," Mr Erdogan told a news conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Tuesday.

He confirmed the two deaths after saying on Saturday that Turkey had sustained "several" casualties, without giving a specific number.

A costly war bad for Erdogan

By Rana Jawad, BBC News North Africa correspondent

Turkey was not meant to be a part of Libya's complex war on the frontlines, and the killings of its soldiers could ignite some doubts and questions.

Turkish lawmakers approved the deployment after President Erdogan argued that it would help safeguard the nation's interests in the oil-rich state, and in the Mediterranean.

But the deployment has earned the ire of different sides in the Libyan conflict.

Although military adventures abroad often unite Turkish politicians and citizens under the banner of nationalism, any significant rise in casualties could spark a debate amongst lawmakers over the cost and benefits of their involvement in Libya - it's a scenario that President Erdogan would look to avoid.

Last week, EU foreign ministers agreed to a new naval and air mission to prevent further weapons reaching Libya.

The UN has repeatedly called for an end to the role of foreign countries in Libya, with UN envoy Ghassan Salame saying in January that reckless interference in the conflict risked making it much more dangerous.

Separately on Tuesday, the rival sides reportedly withdrew from planned UN-sponsored peace talks, which were due to take place in Geneva on Wednesday.

What is happening in Libya?

Libya has been torn by conflict since the 2011 uprising which ousted long-time strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Gen Haftar controls much of eastern Libya and launched an offensive against the capital in April.

His forces have so far been unable to take the city, but in January captured the country's third-biggest city, Sirte.

According to the UN, the fighting has killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more from their homes.

A truce was announced between Gen Haftar and the GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, but attempts to broker a lasting ceasefire broke down at a summit in Moscow last month.

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