Erdogan says two Turkish soldiers killed in Libya fighting, amid fierce debate over death toll
Two Turkish soldiers have been killed in fighting in Libya, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday, as he defended Ankara's deployment of Syrian opposition fighters to the war-torn North African state.
Erdogan's remarks follow reports that as many as 16 Turkish soldiers have been killed in fighting in Libya since last April, something which the Turkish leader did not address.
Turkey, which backs the UN-supported Tripoli government, has sent Turkish military trainers - as well as Syrian fighters - to Libya to battle militias under the command of rogue general Khalifa Haftar, who in April launched an offensive to capture the country's capital.
Erdogan said on Saturday that a "few" Turkish soldiers have been killed in Libya but did not say how many. The comment angered the opposition, which claimed the government was not disclosing the true scale of Turkish military losses in Libya.
The head of mobilisation for Haftar's forces, Khaled Al-Mahjoub, alleged that at least 16 Turkish soldiers had been killed in fighting in and around Tripoli since April.
Haftar's forces claimed that 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 a Tripoli port earlier in February.
The Syrian opposition fighters fought alongside 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 UAE and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, support Haftar's forces.
The embattled Tripoli administration, which controls just a shrinking corner of western Libya, has increasingly relied on Turkey for military aid.
Read more: Fighter loyal to warlord Libya's Haftar kill 16 Turkish soldiers
Libya has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with rival administrations and militias vying for power.
The conflict deepened last April when Haftar, whose forces control much of Libya's south and east, launched an assault to seize Tripoli from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).