Turkish military strategists doubt the Turkish military's force-projection capabilities after it pledged to send troops to Libya. That is, since Libya is 2000 km away, with Egypt and Greece, Turkey's regional rivals, situated en-route. Turkey could send a symbolic force or support troops with little problem, but would have difficulty sending serious combat forces with any kind of heavy weaponry.
However, Erdogan, at least so far, has spoken of sending a naval force to protect Tripoli, and establish a no-fly zone to protect the GNA from LNA air strikes. It seems that the GNA is expecting a full spectrum combat force of land, sea and air elements that can give it a stronger negotiating position when talks resume.
According to Turkish military experts who spoke with Al-Monitor, meeting the GNA’s expectations would require at least 6 F-16 fighter jets and an AWAC system, a frigate, two or three gunboats, a submarine or two, and a brigade size contingent of infantry, around 3000 troops, complete with armor, mechanized capabilities and indirect fire support elements.
In other words, according to Al Monitor, Libya is likely to be a major test of what Turkish military planners can actually deliver versus what Erdogan and the GNA might wish to deploy. Unlike Turkey’s presence in Syria, which borders Turkey, Libya’s very location poses a new challenge to Turkey, not to mention rivals Greece and Egypt being situated in between. Moreover, unlike Syria in which Turkey faces militant groups, Libya would have Turkey face off against Egyptian, UAE and Russian backed forces – a task far more complex. The US and EU powers may also seek to increase their involvement were Turkey to deploy combat troops.
According to Al-Monitor, Erdogan’s surprise visit to Tunisia recently was an attempt to shore up Tunisian (and separately also Algerian) support for Turkey’s efforts to back the Islamist-leaning GNA. Turkey’s access to Tunisian and Algerian air and naval space and bases could be crucial to help transfer troops. But, so far, Tunisia and Algeria seem inclined to stay neutral in this conflict, while the former has offered to serve as a mediator between the GNA and Haftar.
This means that Turkey would have to make it largely on its own in order to project force. Its tactical assets, the F-16’s, have a limited combat radius and would need to make fuelling stops en-route – something that would be near impossible at this point, with no friendly bases on the way and with GNA air bases that lack such capability of supporting NATO-standard aircraft while under attack by the LNA’s air capabilities. Turkey also lacks any real heavy bomber capability that can deliver heavy firepower over Libya as needed. How would Turkey take into account Russian air defence systems or Egyptian or Emirati jets currently in action? Turkey’s naval capabilities would also be limited, as Turkey is about a decade away from having an amphibious assault vessel.
In short, if Turkey seeks to deploy a meaningful and sizeable force, to impose a no fly zone or naval blockade and secure GNA controlled areas, it will have serious challenges and limitations. Erdogan might seek to wield serious regional military power, but his wishes might be significantly limited by Turkey’s actual capabilities.