Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff Yasar Guler made a surprise trip to Libya on Saturday, two days after strongman Khalifa Haftar urged his fighters to drive out Turkish forces from the oil-rich country.
The Minister and Chief of General Staff discussed “military and security cooperation” with the Head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, and military officials, the GNA said in a statement.
Upon landing in the Libyan capital, Akar held talks with his counterpart Salah Eddine Namrouch and then met Khaled El-Mechri, who heads the High State Council aligned with the GNA.
The Turkish and Libyan officials agreed during the talks to “pursue their coordination in a bid to repel any hostile” action by Haftar that could destabilize Libya, the statement added.
“Turkish support for the GNA continues in the areas of military and security cooperation,” said Salah Namrush, GNA’s Deputy Defense Minister, in a statement.
In the meeting, Akar reiterated Turkey’s support for Libyan people to ensure they live ‘comfortably, happier and more confidently’.
The GNA’s Defense Minister Namrouch told local media that Libya was striving to build a military institution that respects international norms.
“The Turks have helped the GNA and we thank them for that. But now we wish to reorganize the Libyan army and inject new blood into it,” he said.
Akar and Guler also visited the Defense Security Cooperation and Training Assistance Advisory Command, which was created within the scope of a military cooperation agreement signed last year between Turkey and Libya. The two met Turkish and Libyan soldiers.
Furthermore, Akar attended a graduation ceremony in Tripoli for military cadets who were trained in Turkey as part of the cooperation with the GNA.
Turkey has backed the GNA with military advisers, material and mercenaries against an offensive last year by the eastern-based Haftar. Ankara also has a large military base in Al-Watiya region on Libya’s border with Tunisia.
Akar’s visit to Tripoli also came after the Turkish Parliament last week adopted a motion extending the deployment of forces in Libya by 18 months.
Turkish support for the GNA helped stave off the April 2019 offensive by Haftar.
The Turkish Defense Minister warned on Sunday that the forces of Khalifa Haftar and their supporters based in eastern Libya would be viewed as “legitimate targets” if they attempted to attack Turkish forces in the region.
While the GNA has received extensive military backing from Ankara and is also supported by Qatar, Haftar is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France and Egypt.
In October, the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire agreement and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution. Russia on Wednesday called for international efforts toward a peace settlement in Libya to be intensified.
Both sides have stopped short of withdrawing forces from the frontline, as demanded by the truce. A panel of U.N. experts has cited the foreign supporters of both sides as breaching an arms embargo on Libya.
On June 17, Turkey’s Foreign and Finance Ministers, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Berat Albayrak, along with Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, visited Tripoli for talks with Sarraj.
Meanwhile, Senior Egyptian security officials visited the Libyan capital Tripoli for the first time in years on Sunday and held talks with GNA officials, the Libyan Interior Ministry said. The visit was the first for senior Egyptian officials to Tripoli since 2014.
Libya has been torn apart by bloodshed since the NATO-backed uprising which toppled the government of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, with two rival administrations now vying for power and control of the country’s vast oil wealth.