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Editorial: Turkey's Libya intervention escalates a dangerous power struggle

TURKEY’S vote to approve deploying troops to Libya — still war-torn nearly a decade since Nato firepower enabled a jihadist revolt to sweep away the Muammar Gadaffi regime — will add fuel to the flames of a bloody civil war.

It also points to increasing tensions within Nato itself as Ankara increasingly pursues its own policy objectives irrespective of the wishes of the United States, pitting fellow Nato members against each other in the process.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brutal assault on northern Syria in October took place with Washington’s blessing, meaning that the US turned its back on predominantly Kurdish forces it had previously treated as allies against the Islamic State terror group. US President Donald Trump’s motive for this U-turn is disputed. 

Some say Erdogan had evidence that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner had given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the green light for the arrest of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was infamously killed and dismembered in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, and threatened to expose this if Trump refused to co-operate.

Or perhaps Trump’s own simpler explanation is true. In the words of the “leader of the free world”: “We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.”

Turkey’s intense hostility to Kurdish liberation movements is well known, and the country not only borders Syria but has a record of intervening on the side of jihadist extremists in the Syrian civil war that stretches back years.

The prospect of a military intervention in Libya indicates an even more dangerous expansionism.

General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which controls the majority of the country and has been fighting for months to seize control from the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, is not friendless.

Italy has repeatedly accused France of providing it with military assistance, motivated by France’s Total oil company’s concessions in Haftar-controlled territory (Italy’s ENI has contracts with the official government, which explains Rome’s attitude to the matter). 

France has indignantly denied supporting Haftar — though when challenged by Libyan authorities to explain the discovery of French missiles at one of Haftar’s bases in July, its Defence Ministry’s explanation that it had “lost track” of the missiles and had no idea how they had got into Libyan rebel hands was singularly unconvincing.

Trump himself has praised Haftar for “fighting terrorism” and securing control of Libyan oil reserves, though the US government officially supports the UN-recognised administration and, in turn, accuses Russia of supporting Haftar.

Evidence that Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia have all provided backing for Haftar further complicates matters, and the fury expressed by Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus over Erdogan’s maritime agreement with the official Libyan authorities, granting Turkey extensive exploitation prerogatives across the Mediterranean that all four countries regard as infringing on their own rights, gives them a further motive to involve themselves in the conflict.

Libya is a failed state, or rather, a state consciously ripped apart by the US, Britain and France 10 years ago that has not known peace or stable government since.

Its ongoing conflict creates thousands of refugees; the collapse of law and order has also made it a key route for human traffickers while people fleeing war, poverty and climate change further south in Africa have been captured, bought and sold in its slave markets.

Its oil reserves are now making it a focus for regional rivalries that can only mean more misery and death for its people.

Turkey’s intervention risks extending the war. Peace activists must put what pressure we can on the British government to use its leverage to warn Erdogan against it.

And we must fight for a wider understanding across society that unless we see a sea change in British foreign policy we will continue to be complicit in spawning nightmares like the never-ending Libyan war.

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