Turkey's Syrian mercenaries in Libya 'degrade security', US report says

Presence of thousands of Syrians sent by Turkey to Libya will probably bring backlash from Libyan public, Pentagon says

An Israeli tank takes part in a military drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on September 1, 2020. / AFP / JALAA MAREY
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A US report said thousands of Syrian mercenaries sent by Turkey to Libya to fight on the side of the Tripoli government were likely to degrade security and cause a backlash from the Libyan public.

The US Defence Department’s inspector general also said in a new report that he was concerned about the growing presence of Russian mercenaries fighting for the rivals of the Tripoli-based government in the Libyan war.

The report, which was released on Tuesday, said Turkey sent to Libya at least 5,000 Syrian mercenaries who had worked closely with Ankara in Syria’s civil war.

They were sent to help government militias fight the forces of eastern-based Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Turkey also sent hundreds of regular troops to Libya, including operators and technicians for Turkish air defence systems in western Libya, the report said.

While the Syrian mercenaries bolstered the government’s position, “their continued presence will continue to negatively affect the overall security situation in Libya", said the report, which covers the second quarter of 2020.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a Nato-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed.

The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and west.

Fighting has died down in recent weeks, but both sides are preparing for a possible battle over the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oilfields and export terminals controlled by Field Marshal Haftar's forces.

The chaos has worsened in recent months as foreign backers increasingly intervene, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin this year.

Thousands of mercenaries are fighting on both sides of the conflict.

The US Africa Command, or Africom, described the Syrian mercenaries fighting with the Tripoli-based government as “inexperienced, uneducated, and motivated by promises of considerable salary”.

It said Turkish private military company Sadat has overseen supervision and payment to the mercenaries.

Increasing reports of theft, sexual assault and misconduct by Syrian mercenaries in western areas are likely to further degrade the security situation and cause backlash from the Libyan public, Africom said.

The report says extremists with militant links have been involved in the fighting, although “it is possible they were fighting for financial and personal reasons, rather than ideological reasons”.

Protests took place over deteriorating economic conditions last month in the capital and elsewhere in western Libya, which is controlled by forces loyal to the Tripoli government.

Militias opened fire on demonstrators with rifles and lorry-mounted guns and abducted some protesters.