Turkey: Turkey Has Problems From Libya to the Black Sea


January 29, 2024: Turkey has, since the 1990s, become more of a problem for itself and many other nations in the region. This mischief remained active in 2023 into 2024, and caused substantial economic and diplomatic damage to Turkey, but its leader for the last two decades, President Erdogan, survived the 2023 national elections and will remain in office for another five years. Even when out of office Erdogan will remain a political king maker and major factor in Turkish politics.

Currently Erdogan is angry at the Iraqi Kurds because of their role in the deaths of 21 Turkish soldiers in the last month. Turkish troops have been fighting Syrian Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces/SDF as well as the Iraqi Kurds.

The Kurdish majority regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran remain vulnerable to Turkish air strikes and occasional attacks by Turkish ground forces. Turkey was never content with the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq and the impact that had on Kurdish minorities in Syria, where an autonomous region is already a reality for the moment. The Kurds remain under attack in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran while also suffering from internal feuds between those who are willing to fight for a unified Kurdish state and those who are willing to make deals with local governments to obtain benefits for local Kurds, like less economic and cultural discrimination and persecution. The Syrian Kurds thought the Americans might stick around after ISIL was defeated and take on Turkish and Syrian forces to guarantee Syrian Kurds their autonomy. The U.S. was willing to stick around until ISIL was suppressed in eastern Syria and perhaps longer if the Syrian Kurds provide useful support. Americans also remain in northern Iraq.

Turkey has problems in the Black Sea from the Ukraine-Russia war. In mid-2023 there was a sudden increase in the number of free-floating mines between Crimea and the narrow straits Turkey controls that lead to the Mediterranean and the world’s oceans. Turkey and other NATO nations control most of the Black Sea coastline, especially the southern and western Black Sea coasts. The Russian navy still controls most of the eastern Black Sea and is believed responsible for more than 400 free-floating naval mines showing up west of Crimea since mid-2023.

In 2024 Turkey agreed to cooperate with NATO allies Bulgaria and Romania, which also border the Black Sea, to clear the Russian mines in the Black Sea. Turkey will not allow mine clearing vessels from any other nation to enter the Black Sea to assist. Turkey controls the only entrance to the Black Sea and has a lot of discretion about who is let in and who is not.

Few of these mines appear to be tethered mines that broke loose from their chains. That is an old problem with Russian made floating mines. Tethered mines are designed to have their weighted base sink to the bottom of shallow, less than 20 meters, of water. Most of the mines currently in the Black Sea were apparently released into the water without any tether. The use of naval mines is diminished because they are not much of a threat to warships, which are constantly on the lookout for them, and most commercial ships are too big to sink after encountering one of these mines. There is some hull damage and flooding, but not enough to sink a ship.

Turkey continues to maintain military forces in Libya and recently announced that Turkish and hired Syrian mercenary troops would remain in Libya at least until 2026. The Turks are there to block efforts to hold national elections and bring an end to eleven years of civil war. By early 2020 the Turks had sent enough troops to rescue the GNA (Government of National Accord), a failed UN and Moslem Brotherhood backed government, from its rival. The GNA failed to attract a national following and a local military leader with a locally recruited army of trained and better disciplined soldiers did what UN diplomacy and threats could not. The eastern force, the LNA (Libyan National Army) has been around since 2015, when it was formed in eastern Libya and proceeded to eliminate rivals, especially Islamic radical groups, throughout the country. By early 2019 all that the GNA had left was the traditional capital (Tripoli) and the nearby (to the east) coastal city of Misrata. Both cities are dominated by dozens of rival militias, many of them seeking an Islamic government but mainly looking out for themselves.

The LNA went after Tripoli in early 2019, from two sides and slowly pushed back the desperate militias, who would lose their independence and lucrative criminal enterprises if the LNA succeeded. The UN condemned the LNA and ignored Turkey shipping in weapons and military advisors to assist the GNA. By the end of 2019 Turkey was threatening to send in combat troops and warships to blockade Libyan ports. The Turkish support violated the UN arms embargo on Libya, as does the support Russia, Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and a few other countries have provided for the LNA. The LNA agreed to a ceasefire and national elections. The Turks and thousands of their Syrian Arab mercenaries are still there and are prepared to stay indefinitely. At the end of 2023 the Turkish parliament approved the continued presence of Turkish troops in Libya at least until 2026.

EU/European Union warships and surveillance aircraft have, since 2020, been trying to enforce a weapons blockade off the Libyan coast. This effort has not been completely successful.

Meanwhile Turkey continues to invest in Libyan economic development. So far, these Turkish investments amount to $120 million. Currently most of this activity is in territory controlled by the Turkey backed GNA faction. Most Libyans want the Turks out of Libya. The Turkish investments are seen as directed at creating economic benefits for Turkey rather than Libya. Turkish troops in Libya and naval forces off the coast prevent the Libyans from sabotaging Turkish economic projects in Libya.


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