President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday two Turkish troops were killed in Libya where they back the internationally-recognized government in the north African state’s conflict, adding allied Syrians are honored to fight there too.
Turkey has been providing military support to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which has been trying to fend off an offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces to the east. Last year the two sides signed a military cooperation deal and Turkey has since sent troops and allied Syrian fighters there.
Ankara has so far stressed its forces were not fighting in Libya but rather providing coordination to the GNA. Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had “several martyrs” in Libya, and on Tuesday he clarified two had died.
“We have two martyrs of ours there (Libya),” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara, repeating there were also fighters from the Syrian National Army working with Turkish personnel. The Syrian National Army is a Turkey-backed rebel group fighting against pro-Damascus forces in northern Syria.
“Those going from Syria, from the Syrian National Army there have a common goal. They are there within the framework of these common goals… Our brothers who are with us in Syria see being there with us as an honour,” Erdogan added.
On Sunday, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said they had killed 16 Turkish soldiers in recent weeks. Since the deployment of Turkish soldiers and sophisticated equipment to the GNA, the LNA has lost some of its gains. The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
At a summit in Berlin last month, world powers agreed that hostilities must stop in Libya while a political process takes place. Ankara has since accused Haftar of violating the ceasefire, saying its guarantees regarding a United Nations arms embargo to Libya were dependent on a durable truce.
Ceasefire talks between Libya’s warring sides, which resumed last week after a pause over clashes on the ground, were in the “right direction”, the U.N. envoy for Libya said on Friday. But, lawmakers based in areas under Haftar’s control said on Monday they would not participate in talks with politicians allied to the GNA.