Middle East

Turkey mulls sending Syrian fighters to Libya

A central security support force membe on patrol during the deployment in the Tajura neighborhood, east of Tripoli. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

ANKARA: Turkey is considering sending allied Syrian fighters to Libya as part of its planned military support for the embattled government in Tripoli, four senior Turkish sources told Reuters Monday, with one adding that Ankara was leaning toward the idea. Turkey has not yet sent any Syrian fighters as part of the planned deployment, they told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.

Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would deploy troops to Libya after Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord requested support. The GNA is fending off an offensive by Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the east of the North African country.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters spearheaded a Turkish military incursion into northeast Syria in October targeting a Kurdish militia. Ankara also backs Syrian rebels in the northwest province of Idlib in Syria’s nearly 9-year-old civil war.

“It is currently not the case that Turkey is sending [Syrian rebel fighters] to Libya. But evaluations are being made and meetings are being held on this issue, and there is a tendency to go in this direction,” said one high-ranking Turkish official.

“There is no final decision on how many members will go there,” the official added.

It was unclear whether Ankara was mulling sending Syrian fighters as part of the first deployment.

Haftar’s forces, supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, have failed to reach the center of Tripoli but have made small gains in recent weeks with the help of Russian and Sudanese fighters, as well as drones shipped by the UAE, diplomats say.

The GNA said Sunday that a video circulating online purportedly showing Syrian fighters deployed by Turkey in Libya was false and actually shot in the Syrian province of Idlib. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, citing sources, said that 300 pro-Turkey Syrian fighters had been transferred to Libya and that others were training in Turkish camps.

“The military’s experience abroad will be very useful in Libya. However, there is the possibility of using the experience of Syrian fighters as well ... and this is being evaluated,” a Turkish security official said.

“After Parliament accepts the mandate, a step may be taken in this direction,” the person added.

Last month Ankara signed two separate accords with the GNA : one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.

The maritime deal ends Turkey’s isolation at sea as it ramps up offshore energy exploration that has alarmed Greece and other neighbours. The military deal would preserve its lone ally in the region, Tripoli, while preserving private investments in Libya including by Turkish construction firms.

In Syria, Turkey opposes President Bashar Assad. Its military has teamed up with rebel forces to carry out three cross-border incursions since 2016 against Islamic State and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 31, 2019, on page 5.

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