Two Turkish frigates have been spotted off Libya as Turkey ramps up its military support for the U.N.-recognised government in Tripoli against an offensive by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), website Drive reported on Tuesday. The frigates were spotted, as emerging reports claim that Turkish troops and heavy armor are arriving in that city, too.
Pictures showing the two warships sailing together near Tripoli first emerged online on Jan. 28, 2020.
Tripoli coast pic.twitter.com/Ltwtaa8z7o
— Ali Ahmed (@LibyaPro2) January 28, 2020
Unconfirmed reports about the arrival of Turkish forces escorting a roro-cargo ship began to appear on social media hours later.
Turkish Navy escorting roro-cargo ship ⬇️ to port of Tripoli .
Credit ; @LibyaPro2 pic.twitter.com/pzQr5PbGRD
— SaitErguven (@SVErguven) January 29, 2020
On Jan. 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said in a televised interview that an unspecified number of Turkish troops would be heading to Libya soon and, the day after, revealed that members of the country’s National Intelligence Organization, also referred to by the Turkish acronym MIT, were already in the country.
The warships, believed to be Gabya-class frigates Göksü and Gökova, will boost the Government of National Accord (GNA)’s air defences against LNA jets and drones, and unconfirmed reports say they accompanied cargo ships carrying armoured vehicles and possibly tanks to the Libyan capital.
The shipments could have been sent to bulk up the GNA’s forces, as Turkey reinforced the Tripoli government against an LNA offensive on the capital launched in April, but the presence of tanks would mean Turkey was escalating its troop presence beyond expectations, the Drive said.
Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the Tripoli government in November that foresaw the deployment of Turkish forces at the GNA’s request, but up to now has only sent troops as trainers and advisers, instead sending thousands of allied Syrian rebels to fight.
Two rounds of peace talks took place in January, but General Khalifa Haftar’s LNA has continued to press forward into territory held by the GNA.
At the same time, observers reported numerous high-tonnage cargo planes flying from United Arab Emirates to LNA-held airfields, indicating that the Haftar’s foreign backers were stepping up their military support.