17/01/2020 – Some 650 fighters from Turkish-backed rebel groups in Syria are in Libya already, and a further 1,350 crossed to Turkey in January to prepare to support the Tripoli government, the Guardian newspaper said on Wednesday.
Media reports said that Turkey had begun sending Syrian fighters to the north African country after Ankara signed a military cooperation deal with Tripoli in November, but the number was previously believed to be much lower.
Three hundred fighters from the Syrian National Army, the umbrella group of rebel forces backed by Turkey, left Syria through the Hawar Kilis border crossing on Dec. 24, followed by a further 350 men on Dec. 29, the Guardian said. They were flown to the capital Tripoli before being deployed to the front lines to the east of the city.
The other 1,350 men crossed to Turkey on Jan. 5, and some have been deployed to Libya while the rest are still receiving training, the Guardian said.
Sources in the SNA told the Guardian they had been offered direct contracts with the Government of National Accord in Tripoli for $2,000 per month, an amount that dwarfs the 450-550 Turkish liras ($76 – $93) they earn in Syria. The fighters have also been offered Turkish citizenship as an incentive to join the Libyan fight, the Guardian said.
Turkey helped the Tripoli-based government survive an onslaught from the eastern-based Libyan National Army last April by sending drones and armoured vehicles, and upped the ante in December when it announced plans to deploy Turkish troops in the country.
Last week, Turkey and Russia called a ceasefire to begin on Sunday and brought the rival Libyan leaders to Moscow to try to hash out a deal to stop the fighting. But Libyan National Army leader Khalifa Haftar left without signing the agreement.
Sahel-Elite (Bamako-Mali) | Photo: Ahval