The expected Turkish deployment of troops to Libya could escalate instability in the Sahel region, which includes Nigeria’s extreme north, an expert has said.
The Turkish legislature approved the bill for the deployment on Thursday after President Recep Erdogan announced the plan last December to intervene in the Libyan conflict on the side of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord officially recognised by the United Nations.
“For the Sahel region, you can expect more jihadists,” said Femi Mimiko, a professor of Political Science at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, commenting on the Turkish intervention.
The development further internationalises the armed conflict in Libya, which has been torn by civil war since a NATO-led invasion led to the fall and killing of Muammar Gaddafi.
Already, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and UAE are backing the forces of Khalifa Haftar, a former late Gaddafi’s ally, who is pushing from the country’s east to oust the GNA from Tripoli. No authority has had full control over Libya since the fall of Gaddafi.
Nigerian leader, Muhammadu Buhari, has repeatedly blamed the situation in Libya for the flow of arms bandits and terrorists used in Nigeria.
Apart from Boko Haram terrorism, which affects the entire Lake Chad region, Nigeria also faces trouble posed by bandits and armed herders whose arms Mr Buhari has often said comes from Libya.
Meanwhile, before the official approval of Mr Erdogan’s bill to deploy troops to Libya, there had been reports that mercenaries trained in the Turkish camps in Syria were being airlifted to Libya on the side of the Tripoli-based government on contract for a time spanning between three and six months.
Russian-backed mercenaries and those from Chad are also reported to be fighting for the Haftar’s forces, now threatening the internationally recognised government as they tighten grip on Tripoli.
“More jihadists are likely going to emerge to heighten the spate of terrorist actions across the region, where France’s strong involvement is the only credible counter measure in the face of the rather weak state institutions in the region,” Mr Mimiko further said in an email sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Friday.
The professor said the French “demonstrated fatigue” over operations in the Sahel region could loosen measures against terrorists’ penetration.
“That is why French President Emmanuel Macron’s demonstrated fatigue over his country’s continued operations in the Sahel portends danger for the stability of the region. It may embolden the terrorists, and thus increase their acts against countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, among others – of course, with considerable spillover effects for Nigeria,” he said.
Mr Mimiko said, “Turkey’s moves to directly intervene in Libya is a game-changer, as the intervention would no doubt trigger further escalation of an already tricky situation.”
The capital Tripoli where the GNA is based is surrounded by the Haftar’s forces who are pushing from the country’s east. But with Turkey’s intervention, a hope of “final” fall of the GNA may be far from reality, suggested Mr. Mimiko.
He said, “It certainly would make it pretty difficult for Halifa Hafta to achieve his aim of overrunning Tripoli. The countries that gave his putsch tactical support actually expected a blitzkrieg of sort – a fast, concise and effective operation that would get him into the Libyan capital quickly; and present the world with a fait accompli.
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“That did not happen; and the chances of that happening now with Turkish interference has receded considerably. That Hafta may seek to rapidly escalate in the days ahead in the hope that his mission could be accomplished before actual Turkish deployment starts, does not detract from this.”
In a joint statement on Friday, the Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President of Cypriot Nicos Anastasiades warned that the Turkish deployment of troops to Libya is “a dangerous threat to regional stability.”
They said Turkish intervention was a “gross” violation of a UN-imposed arms embargo on Libya.
Egypt, which backs the Haftar forces, also said Turkish troops deployment would “negatively affect the stability of the Mediterranean region.”
However, Mr. Mimiko said that Turkey’s involvement is a “legitimate act,” explaining that a formal request was made by the “government of Libya which is recognised by the United Nations.”
Mr. Mimiko said the assassination of Iran’s General Quassem Soleimani, which took place in the early hours of Friday and the expected backlash, have further complicated the situation.
“These are obviously not the best of times for the course of moderation, peace and stability in the Middle East and North America (MENA),” he said.
A spokesperson for Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kimiebi Ebienfa, said Abuja is “studying the situation in Libya and will align itself with the position of the AU when declared.”
“Nigeria will definitely oppose any escalation of the conflict in Libya,” he added.