ASSESSING TURKEY’S MILITARY OPTIONS IN LIBYA

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ASSESSING TURKEY’S MILITARY OPTIONS IN LIBYA

Dr. Can Kasapoglu, Director, Security and Defense Research Program, EDAM

Context

Amidst fierce clashes in Libya and advances by General Hafter’s forces, Turkey and the Government of National Accord have signed a defense cooperation deal. On Thursday, December 19, the GNA announced that it ratified the deal. The Turkish Parliament ratified the agreement on Saturday, December 21. This paper offers a brief open-source intelligence based assessment as to Ankara’s options and caveats related to its military engagement in Libya.

Key Judgements

  • The Turkish government has prepared the ground for an upscaling of its military support to the Government of National Accord by passing a bill in the Turkish Parliament.
  • Presumably, Turkey will dispatch an elite joint contingent to Libya soon. The forward-deployed group of forces could include Special Forces elements and highly combat capable personnel across the spectrum (urban warfare specialization units, marine commandos, special operations units), along with military intelligence and liaison officers. The contingent would enjoy flexible rules of engagement in their military advisory mission. Since 2016, the Turkish Armed Forces have gained a considerable level of experience in such efforts thanks to the Syrian campaigns.
  • In coming months, Ankara can also seek to legislate for regulating private military companies. Ankara could then delegate some of the military advisory and combat roles in Libya to PMCs.
  • Turkey does not have adequate naval aviation capacity to intervene in the Libyan conflict. The Turkish Navy’s forthcoming amphibious assault vessel, TCG Anadolu, has not entered into service yet. Besides, given the geographical limitations, the Turkish Air Force cannot generate the required sortie rates in the Libyan skies if needed. As the GNA’s airbases cannot accommodate large numbers of F-16s, which form the backbone of the Turkish airpower, forward-deployment is not an option. Furthermore, although the Turkish defense sector produces state-of-the-art unmanned aerial systems in tactical and MALE (medium altitude – long endurance) classes, more advanced platforms with heavier payloads will enter into service by the early 2020s.  All in all, Turkey has limited options in the Libyan airspace except for deploying overwhelming numbers of tactical and MALE drones.
  • In all likelihood, Turkey is to boost its drone signature in Libya. In return, the United Arab Emirates, along with other sponsors of General Hafter’s forces, could respond by sending in more air defenses.
  • The risk of mission creep and protracted hybrid warfare remains high. However, if unchecked, the ongoing progress of Hafter’s forces can significantly threaten the GNA, jeopardizing Ankara’s strategic interests in Libya and, in a broader geopolitical sense, in the Mediterranean. Thus, Ankara’s present calculus favors an aspirant military policy over the risks of mission creep.

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