Turkey to assume control of Benghazi airport

Turkey is assuming control of the Benghazi airport, and sending naval forces to patrol the corridor between the rebel-held city and Crete, as it prepares to join a London meeting on the international response to Libya.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday that Turkey would take control of the airport in order to coordinate humanitarian assistance to the crisis-hit North African country as part of the multinational task force now under NATO command.

“Turkey said ‘yes’ to three tasks within NATO: the takeover of Benghazi airport for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the task about control of the air corridor and the involvement of Turkish naval forces in the corridor between Benghazi and Crete,” Erdoğan told a news conference at Ankara’s Esenboğa airport before departing for neighboring Iraq.

NATO member states reached a consensus last week about leading Libya operations under the alliance’s command. The Turkish Parliament passed a motion Thursday authorizing the country’s military to participate in the international force in Libya and the government to make a “multi-dimensional contribution.”

Turkey has pressed for broad-based participation in the Libya mission – including the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference – to secure a peaceful transition in Libya and meet the legitimate needs of the Libyan people, Erdoğan said.

“We have never been and will never be a country that would fire on and bomb conflicting sides in Libya,” he said.

Turkey will be represented in an international conference about Libya set to be held Tuesday in London. Erdoğan said Turkey’s insistence on ensuring broad-based participation in the summit was acknowledged. “Thus NATO will not be left alone in Libya,” he said.

The London conference is expected to discuss the situation in Libya and take stock of the implementation thus far of U.N. Security Council Resolutions No. 1970 and 1973. The British government previously announced that a wide range of countries would be invited, particularly from the Middle East and North African region, in order to take united and coordinated action in response to the unfolding crisis.

The meeting is expected to establish a contact group of nations. Though it is not yet clear if Turkey will join this grouping, a Turkish diplomat said such mechanisms are sometimes useful – as in the case of Kosovo – and that Ankara would evaluate the situation if it were asked to participate.

Once-reluctant Turkey is now taking a critical role in NATO operations in Libya, pledging five vessels and one submarine to a NATO patrol mission to enforce a U.N. arms embargo against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. Additionally, Turkey’s NATO base in the Aegean province of İzmir was selected as the center for operations monitoring the no-fly zone in Libya following the lifting of Turkey’s previous opposition to any kind of NATO involvement in the North African country.