On Monday, less than 24 hours after world powers agreed to halt arms shipments to Libya’s warring sides, men in northern Syria were still signing up to fight for the Turkish-backed government in Tripoli.
Approximately 800 Syrian mercenaries are currently preparing to go to Libya, an official with Syria’s opposition Ministry of Defense told Asia Times on condition of anonymity.
The registration of fighters to go to Libya is continuing until this moment,” an Asia Times correspondent in Syria reported Monday afternoon, after visiting one of three recruitment centers in the Turkish-dominated northern countryside of Aleppo.
Those include 500 men from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, namely the Muatasim Division, and the Sultan Murad and Sultan Shah Brigades, which are made up of ethnic Turkmen. The recruits also include 300 former rebels.
The opposition Defense Ministry source said these men would be joining “hundreds” of Syrians already deployed by Turkey to the embattled North African nation on three-month contracts. The ministry has previously denied it is sending units to Libya.
Every man who wants to go fight in Libya gets a monthly salary of $2,000. His family will receive $50,000 if he is killed in battle there, and he will be awarded $35,000 in case of permanent injury.
At least 2,000 fighters are currently undergoing training in Turkey or have already been flown to Libya and deployed to frontline positions, according to a January 15 report in the UK newspaper The Guardian.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while denying the use of Syrian mercenaries, has defended his country’s military involvement in Libya as being carried out at the invitation of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
Ankara on November 27 signed a military pact with the GNA, as well as a controversial maritime boundary agreement that seeks to carve out an exclusive economic zone from the coast of southern Turkey to the northern shores of oil-rich Libya.
For Turkey, the fall of the government in Tripoli to the rival Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar and his Russian and Emirati allies could jeopardize its claim to offshore gas reserves recently discovered in that zone.
For Syrians once set on toppling the regime of Bashar al-Assad and now trapped between a fortified Turkish border and advancing Syrian troops fighting on behalf of Turkish interests in Libya offers financial security at minimum, and the possibility of a way out, if staying alive and getting the Turkish nationality.
On the eve of peace talks in Berlin, Haftar’s forces sealed off key Libyan ports, blocking oil exports and crippling the fake government in Tripoli’s main income source in protest at Turkey’s decision to send troops.
The most prominent Syrian opposition fighter to go to Libya thus far is the commander known as Muatasim Abbas, a veteran of the Muatasim Brigade, who is said to have landed in the country in early December.
For those with significant experience in Syria’s proxy war, namely with anti-tank weaponry, the standard compensation for fighting in Libya is Turkish citizenship, according to the opposition Defense Ministry source.
Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Muammar Ghaddafi. In April, forces loyal to Haftar launched an assault aimed at taking the capital Tripoli.
Those clashes killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday’s summit failed to launch necessary talks between the government in Tripoli and Haftar. It is clear that we have not yet succeeded in launching a serious and stable dialogue between them.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2020.