ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Two Turkish soldiers have been killed in fighting in Libya, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday as he also defended Ankara’s move to also send Syrian opposition fighters to the North African country.
Erdogan’s remarks followed reports that as many as 16 Turkish soldiers may have been killed in the fighting in Libya since last April, reports that the Turkish leader did not address.
Turkey, which backs the U.N.-supported Libyan government that is based in Tripoli, has sent Turkish military trainers as well as Syrian fighters to battle against rival Libyan forces under commander Khalifa Hifter, who in April launched an offensive to capture Libya’s capital.
Erdogan had said on Saturday that a “few” Turkish soldiers have been killed in Libya but did not say how many. That angered Turkey’s opposition, which claimed the government was not disclosing military losses in Libya.
The head of mobilization for Hifter’s forces, Khaled al-Mahjoub, had claimed that their fighters killed at least 16 Turkish soldiers who were taking part in the fighting in and around Tripoli since April.
Hifter’s forces also said that a Turkish military officer, an intelligence officer and their Syrian interpreter were killed in artillery shelling that targeted a ship that was about to unload a weapons cargo at the Tripoli port earlier in February.
The Syrian opposition fighters fought along Turkish forces in Ankara’s various offensives in Syria.
“They are with us in Syria. And these brothers who are with us in Syria consider it an honor to be with us there (in Libya) too,” Erdogan said.
The United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, support Hifter’s forces. The embattled Tripoli administration, which controls just a shrinking corner of western Libya, has increasingly relied on Turkey for military aid.