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Eastern Libya forces say 16 Turkish soldiers killed in fighting

Eastern Libya forces say 16 Turkish soldiers killed in fighting

BENGHAZI, Feb 23 (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said on Sunday they had killed 16 Turkish soldiers in recent weeks, a day after Turkey acknowledged it had lost several “martyrs” in combat in the north African country.

Khalid al-Mahjoub, a spokesman for Haftar’s self-styled Libya National Army (LNA), said the Turks were killed in the port city of Misrata, in battles in Tripoli and in the town of al-Falah south of the capital.

Turkey backs Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and has sent Syrian soldiers along with some of its own soldiers and weapons to help the Tripoli-based administration repel an attempt by the LNA to capture the city.

Haftar’s forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and have also had help from Russian mercenaries.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday acknowleged some Turkish losses in Libya’s “struggle”.

“We are there (in Libya) with our (Turkish) soldiers and our teams from the Syrian National Army. We continue the struggle there. We have several martyrs. In return, however, we neutralized nearly a hundred (of Haftar’s) legionaries,” Erdogan said.

The Syrian National Army, also known as Free Syrian Army, is a Turkey-backed Syrian rebel group fighting against pro-Damascus forces in northern Syria, where 16 Turkish soldiers have been killed so far this month.

The deployment of Turkish soldiers and sophisticated air defences has erased small gains made by the LNA with the help of Russian mercenaries, returning the frontline roughly to where it was at start of Haftar’s campaign in April 2019.

Ceasefire talks between Libya’s warring sides resumed on Thursday after the GNA had pulled out of negotiations following the shelling of Tripoli’s port by Haftar’s forces. (Reporting Ayman Warfalli in Benghazi; Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Writing by Nadine Awadalla, Editing by William Maclean)

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