The Pentagon details that Turkey sent between 3,500 and 3,800 Syrian mercenaries to Libya in the first quarter of the year

The Ottoman nation is actively involved in the North African country's conflict to shore up its position in the Mediterranean
Syrian fighters supported by Turkey

AFP/BULENT KILIC  -   Syrian fighters supported by Turkey

An analysis by the US Pentagon has revealed that Turkey posted between 3,500 and 3,800 paid fighters from Syria to Libya during the first three months of 2020. The report submitted by the US Department of Defense inspector general has detailed the Turkish movements in favor of the Government of National Accord (GNA) side in the civil war against the Libyan National Army (LNA); an initiative that is causing a turn of events in the armed clash. 

According to information published by The Washington Post, this quarterly report, which deals with anti-terrorist operations in Africa and is managed by the Pentagon, has highlighted that Turkey paid and offered Turkish citizenship to thousands of Syrian mercenaries who fight in Libya in favour of the GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, which is internationally recognised by the United Nations (UN) since 2016 and has the aforementioned support from the Eurasian country and from Qatar and Italy. All this in front of an LNA commanded by Marshal Jalifa Haftar, which has the support of Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France. 

Libya has become a game board in which several foreign powers participate to take advantage of an important country for its strategic situation in North Africa and the Mediterranean arc and for its oil resources. Some of these foreign powers send paid soldiers, such as Turkey and Russia. The country presided over by Vladimir Putin has the private armed group Wagner on the ground, according to various media reports. This private company linked to the Kremlin could have included between 800 and 2,500 paid combatants in favour of the LNA, which is in turn associated with the other eastern executive in Tobruk. 

Las tropas del GNA toman el control de las ciudades de Sabratha y Sorman
PHOTO/HAZEM TURKIA - GNA troops take control of the cities of Sabratha and Sorman

Precisely in May, the Pentagon accused Russia of sending at least 14 fighter planes to a central Libyan air base, which it said were repainted in Syria to hide their Russian origin. Earlier this week, it also alleged that Russian mercenaries planted landmines and other booby-trapped explosives around Tripoli that killed 52 people and injured 96, including civilians and mine clearance workers, according to the U.N.'s own estimates.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the U.S. military's accusations Thursday, insisting that "the Russian Army is not involved in any process in Libya in any way.

The Libyan civil war is still going on with a GNA regaining positions. The LNA launched a major offensive on April 4, 2019 to take over Tripoli, which was the main last resilient bastion of the GNA, but the incursion into the armed conflict in Turkey has changed the scenario in favour of the forces defending the Sarraj government. This Ottoman intervention was the result of the agreement reached between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez Sarraj himself in November last year, which secured Turkish military support for the Tripolitan Executive and signed agreements to share out exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean (which came into conflict with countries such as Cyprus and Greece, which denounced the violation of their maritime borders).

El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, y el jefe del GNA, Fayez Sarraj, en Estambul, el 12 de enero de 2020
AFP/TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/MUSTAFA KAMACI - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and GNA leader Fayez Sarraj in Istanbul on January 12, 2020

Turkey is very interested in positioning itself in the Mediterranean in order to obtain a favourable geostrategic position and increase its financial resources through gas and oil prospecting in the area. Hence its incursion into Libya, and also into Syria, where it also entered to position itself on the Turkish-Syrian border and to harass the Kurdish ethnic group, which it accuses of carrying out terrorist acts south of Turkish soil. Precisely, from Syria come these mercenaries who fight in Libya in favour of the GNA; some of them are linked to former groups linked to terrorist organizations such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda, as several media have pointed out. 

Although the Pentagon report points out that the US Army has not found evidence to indicate that these mercenaries were affiliated with these jihadist formations. It has stated that they were "most likely" motivated by generous economic compensation rather than ideology or politics.

The report covers only the first quarter of the year, up until the end of March, two months before a series of Turkish-backed victories by the GNA drove the Haftar armed forces out of the capital's suburbs, the Al-Watiya airbase and enclaves such as Sabratha and Sorman.

El mariscal del LNA Jalifa Haftar
REUTERS/COSTAS BALTAS - The LNA Jalifa Haftar Marshal

The latest report from the U.S. Department of Defense has noted that Turkish deployments probably increased before the triumphs of the Tripoli forces in late May. It also quotes the U.S. Army African Command saying that 300 Syrian rebels supported by Turkey landed in Libya in early April. Turkey also deployed a contingent with an "unknown number" of Turkish soldiers during the first months of the year, according to the text presented by the inspector general.

The parties to the conflict are now mobilizing around Sirte, a coastal city in northern Libya that provides important access to the central and eastern oil area of the North African country.

After the setbacks suffered by Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli, its supporters pressed for a ceasefire and proposed a political settlement. But Turkey refused to back down and the Tripoli government also showed its intention to recover important national oil cores.

For its part, Egypt, Turkey's great rival and neighbour of Libya, threatened military intervention with its powerful army if Turkish-backed forces tried to take Sirte. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed that his country "will not stand idly by in the face of movements that represent a direct threat to the nation's security. Just last Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by voicing criticism of Egyptian and Emirati support for Haftar.