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Mapping the Turkish Military’s Expanding Footprint: QuickTake

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani

Photographer: Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

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Not since the days of the Ottoman Empire has the Turkish military had such an extensive regional footprint. Under its ambitious president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey sent troops to Libya to turn the tide of the war there, and it keeps up a military presence in Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Somalia, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan as well as maintaining peacekeeping troops in the Balkans. At the same time, the Turkish navy patrols the Mediterranean and Aegean seas where Ankara has laid claim to energy and territorial interests amid escalating tensions with European Union members Greece and Cyprus. The effort comes at a cost. Military expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product has risen almost 50% to 2.7% in 2019 from 1.8% in 2015, at a time when Turkey’s economy has weakened. Erdogan isn’t stepping back. He vowed to strengthen the defense industry further after the U.S. imposed sanctions over Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian missile-defense system. Here’s a look at where Turkey is flexing its muscle, and why.

Erdogan sent naval and land forces, as well as armed drones, to Libya to back the United Nations-recognized government, deepening a conflict that became a proxy war. Turkey supports the Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj against forces to the east aligned with strongman Khalifa Haftar, which are backed by Russian mercenaries, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The two sides have agreed to a truce as the United Nations attempts to build a path toward elections. Turkey aims to salvage business contracts worth billions of dollars that have been thrown into limbo by Libya’s protracted conflict. And in return for agreeing to defend Sarraj’s government, it won Libyan backing for a contentious maritime deal reinforcing Turkey’s claim to rights in the eastern Mediterranean, where it has territorial disputes with Greece.