27/06/2020 – In December 2019, Turkey signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of defense and security with the Tripolitan Government of National Accord, and from that moment, Ankara has been actively involved in the Libyan conflict.
The first reports of Turkey recruiting mercenaries for the Libyan conflict on the side of the PNS appeared in December 2019, when a party of militants supported by Turkey’s “Syrian National Army” (SNA) arrived at training camps in Turkey. They were recruited in the areas of the Turkish operations Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch and Source of Peace.
Not all members of the groups and local residents were satisfied with such an initiative of Turkey. In particular, recruitment for sending to Libya took place during Operation Idlib Dawn, an offensive by Syrian government forces in the provinces of Idlib and Hama, during which the SAA and allies reached the outskirts of the provincial administrative center. According to many members of the pro-Turkish formations, sending militants to Libya in the context of the ongoing retreat and the collapsing front line in Idlib was a completely unjustified step. Seven field commanders resigned in protest, including the chief of the General Staff of the SNA and the Minister of Defense of the Provisional Government of Syria, Salim Idris, as well as his two deputies Adnan Ahmad and Fadlalah Haji, who was also the commander of the Turkish National Liberation Front .
However, their voices were not heard: these groups actually live and are provided at the expense of Turkey, and attempts to criticize their full-fledged master and curator will not lead to anything. The financial issue also played a big role in reducing discontent among the militants: they were offered a salary of $ 2,000 for sending to Libya — a huge sum by the standards of the modern Syrian economy. Recruiters also promised Turkish citizenship and even assured that they would not participate in the hostilities, but only to guard Turkish facilities in Libya.
Due to this, in a short time among the pro-Turkish militants, it was possible to find the necessary number of volunteers to participate in the Libyan conflict on the side of the PNS. Members of the groups Liva Sultan Murad, Liva Sukur al-Shimal, Divisions al-Hamza, Legion al-Sham, Sultan Suleiman Shah, Liva Samarkand and Liva al-Muatasim left for Libya . According to a statement by the LNA Military Information Department, the first batch of 240 Syrian militants arrived in Libya in late December, passing through the al-Wazin border crossing on the border with Tunisia.
After arriving on Libyan soil, pro-Turkish militants met with realities that were far from the pictures drawn by recruiters. Instead of guarding Turkish facilities, they were sent to the front line to fight with the forces of the LNA, which entered the southern quarters of Tripoli. In fact, losses immediately appeared: according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the first documented deaths of Syrian militants in Libya appeared already in early January 2020. Among them was even a minor fighter from the group “Liva Sultan Murad” hailing from the vicinity of the Syrian Ras al-Ain.
By February, up to 80 militants deployed by Turkey were killed in Libya, including in battles in the Salah al-Din and Al-Hadaba areas in Tripoli, as well as in the vicinity of the Libyan capital’s international airport.
In addition, members of the groups also faced problems regarding living conditions and the payment of salaries promised by the Turks. In one of the interviews, an al-Khamza division fighter said that for four months, Syrian mercenaries were fed monotonous food, which was sometimes rotten or moldy.
There were problems with the reason why the members of the pro-Turkish groups went to Libya — with a salary. According to the mercenary, of the two thousand dollars laid down, ordinary soldiers do not get even half, and the unit commander takes 200 dollars. This echoes the statements of militants from other groups: in April, one of the members of the “Feilak al-Majd” said that they paid 2 thousand dollars only once, and all the remaining three months the militants sat without salary. He also complained about an irregular supply of food and cigarettes.
With an increase in its military presence, Turkey sent more and more new parties to Syria to Libya. In mid-January, their number reached 2 thousand, in early February there were already 3 thousand, and in April their number, according to the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, was already 5 thousand. With the increase in numbers, numerous videos began to appear, indicating the participation of pro-Turkish groups in clashes with the VLA. On March 28, a video spread in the network, where a Syrian gunman named Abdulfat Alkasih called for jihad and the killing of LNA fighters.
On April 29, a video appeared with militants named Abu Dawood, Abu Zahra al-Halabi, Abuhager al-Tunisi and Abu Ubaid al-Makdisi participating in the battles for Tripoli International Airport. Subsequently, one of them — Abu Zahra al-Halabi — was sent back to Turkey for distributing this video.
In the clashes, the militants suffered losses, including among the command personnel. For example, on May 17, 31 fighters from the Al-Hamza Division, including its field commander Uday Muhammad, were killed in battles at the Al-Vatyya airbase. Abu Ali Harmus, one of the commanders of the Liva Sukur al-Shimal, was also killed.
In Libya, not only the Syrian mercenaries died, but also the Turkish nationalists, who went there on their own convictions. On March 28, Murat Polat, a member of the Turkish nationalist organization Gray Wolves, who had previously fought in Syrian northern Latakia, was killed.
During the clashes, members of pro-Turkish groups were captured by the LNA. The first Syrian mercenary named Anas ad-Din al-Fatut from the Liva Sultan Murad group was captured by the LNA forces in early January. He was interviewed, where he mentioned the previously described fraud with wages: according to him, with the promised advance of one thousand dollars, he was paid only 500.
In the future, the number of captured Syrian fighters only grew, and more and more new information appeared. For example, in April, the LNA captured four Syrians near Abu Salim, who spoke about the route of their transfer to Libya.
So, militants named Muhammad Aydawi and Muhammad Aydan Asaad Ramadan were first sent to Istanbul from Turkish Gaziantep, and from there they were transported by plane to Misurata.
It also turned out that the militants deployed by Turkey included members of radical Islamic groups. In April, the LNA captured Muhammad Idan, a local commander hailing from Deir ez-Zor, who had previously been a member of the Islamic State, and then joined the Khayyat Tahrir al-Sham.
On April 24, fighters of the 128th battalion of the LNA captured another Syrian mercenary, who admitted that he had previously been a member of ISIS.
Due to the need to transfer more militants and losses from Syria, the Turkish leadership had to force the controlled groups to allocate people to participate in the Libyan conflict. According to Jesrpress, at the end of April, curators from the Turkish special services demanded by order of the Jeysh al-Sharky and Ahrar al-Sharky groups to provide a list of 500 names of candidates for sending to Libya, although previously this was done only on a voluntary basis .
The publication also claimed that the field commander of another group, Al-Jabhat al-Shamiya, had already been sent to Zindan for refusing to fight abroad. As a “educational measure”, the commander and his subordinates were stopped paying salaries, and the group itself was planned to be reformed.
One cannot but mention that the appearance of Syrians from pro-Turkish groups caused problems for the local population. In an interview with The New York Review, one of the militants of the Liva Sultan Murad group, named Ahmed, admitted that after arriving in Libya they were necessarily accompanied by local police to prevent conflicts with local residents and looting.
And this is the logic: fighters of pro-Turkish groups have repeatedly come across robberies and looting after seizing territory in the framework of the Turkish operations “Olive Branch” and “Source of Peace”. This happened in Libya: in January, several civilian vehicles were shot and 9 civilians killed in Ain Zar in the capital Tripoli. Initially, the PNS blamed the LNA for what happened, but later it turned out that this was the work of the Syrian militants, who were robbing houses in Ain Zar.
On April 7, in the Gut al-Shaal district in southwestern Tripoli, the population staged protests and blocked roads due to the murder of a local resident named Ayyub al-Dabub on street 10 in the Gut al-Shaal district. According to one version, it was Syrian mercenaries fighting on the side of the PNS who shot him.
At present, two questions remain, the answers to which are now ambiguous. The first is the loss of Syrian militants in Libya. The practice, when groups publish lists of those killed in battle, is difficult in this case: in Libya, they are under virtually complete control of the Turkish side, carefully monitoring the information background. Therefore, the assessment of the exact number of deaths of the Syrian fighters thrown to Turkey becomes difficult.
For example, in April 2020, the LNA command announced the elimination of 653 militants from the start of the fighting, most of which were members of the Liva Sultan Murad and Al-Khamza Division.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gives a more modest assessment, stating that by mid-June 2020, 417 Syrian mercenaries had been killed, including about 20 minor teenagers hired by Turkey to be sent to Libya. However, both sources speak of several hundred dead Syrian fighters.
Another question is the combat effectiveness of pro-Turkish groups in Libya. The intervention of Turkey helped turn the tide of the Battle of Tripoli, capture the strategically important Al-Batuy airbase and push the LNA to Sirt, but the role of the Syrian militants in this is not clear. Of course, a significant replenishment has benefited the PNS based in Tripoli: according to some reports, the total number of Syrian fighters in Libya has now reached 15 thousand people. But Turkey itself made an important role in the defeat of the LNA, which actively uses shock UAVs, which provides cover for operations from the sea and supplies armored vehicles, ammunition and weapon systems to PNS units. Even in the interview with The New York Review mentioned above, the Syrian fighter mentioned that the commanders of the PNS units do not primarily need infantry, but in particular armaments and equipment, which in this case are much more effective.
But, be that as it may, another is important. Ankara’s use of Syrian militants in Libya clearly showed that Erdogan now has its own mercenary army. Not always combat-ready and trained, often with a low morale, but quite numerous and completely subordinate to him. In the Syrian territories occupied by Turkey in poor financial conditions, there are enough people who do not mind earning several thousand dollars, so the number of people who want to go to fight for Erdogan’s interests is successfully recruited, even taking into account the losses.
On the other hand, you can do anything with recruited militants: from non-payment of salaries and feed to rotten food to sending to slaughter to storm the next enemy positions. They, in fact, cannot refuse, and desertion from the PNS is not always an acceptable option, because it completely blocks the opportunity to see your families left in Syria or Turkey.
Finally, most Syrian militants do not have Turkish citizenship, and their death, capture or documented cases of war crimes will not cause much resonance either in Turkey itself or in the international press. And the Turkish leadership is well aware of the advantages of owning such an army of disenfranchised foreign mercenaries, and with a high degree of probability will use them in other areas. Which Erdogan has more.
SFN | Syria
Sahel-Elite (Bamako-Mali) Photo: Image utilisée juste à titre d’illustration