Will the crisis in Libya take the lift again? The very serious English newspaper The Guardian throws an unprecedented light on the forces present in the theater of Libyan operations with in particular a significant deployment of Syrian fighters sponsored by Turkey.
Neither Ankara nor Tripoli, let alone Damascus, reported Syrian soldiers in Libya. Because so far, Turkey, which supports the government of national unity (GNA) – recognized by the international community – has claimed to have deployed only 35 Turkish soldiers in an « advisory capacity ». The result of an agreement with the GNA to curb the heavy fighting at the gates of Tripoli, unleashed by an attack by Marshal Haftar last April to seize the capital Tripoli.
Yet, according to The Guardian, Ankara did not deploy only Turkish soldiers. In addition, several hundred Syrian fighters are believed to have joined the Libyan conflict, and hundreds more are in the process of deployment. In detail, these are in reality rebel forces which have attempted to destabilize the Bashar Al-Assad regime since 2011, and which Turkey has supported arm-in-hand, moreover financially. Gathered into the Syrian National Army, these fighters are said to include Islamist fighters with diverse ideologies.
Last month, viral videos on social media lifted the veil on the presence of Syrian fighters in Libya. « The Free Syrian Army (mother entity of the NSA, editor’s note) is in Libya to defend Islam, » said a man in one of these videos, viewed by The Guardian. Ankara and Tripoli have since denied the information.
Mercenaries on both sides
In Libya, where they began deploying as early as December 24 with a contingent of 300 men, Syrian fighters signed six-month contracts directly with the government of national unity, rather than with the Turkish army, said sources in the Syrian National Army. They should receive a salary of 2000 dollars a month – a considerable sum compared to the 450-550 Turkish pounds (between 40 and 60 dollars) per month earned in Syria. Turkey is also responsible for the medical costs of the wounded soldiers and the repatriation of the dead to Syria. At the end of their contract, Ankara also promises Turkish nationality to the combatants.
This information illustrates once again the widening of the Libyan conflict to foreign powers. The GNA is supported by Qatar, Italy and Turkey, while Marshal Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, France and even Russia. Even though Moscow denies taking part in the conflict, reports have pointed to the presence of some 600 Russian mercenaries. There is also talk of deploying 3,000 Sudanese to Benghazi to fight alongside Marshal Haftar.
Experts say, however, that the use of mercenaries rather than Republican soldiers by the conflicting powers could avoid, at least for the time being, head-on opposition between these countries. The fact remains that with these implications, the Libyan conflict is transformed every day into a labyrinth the exit from which remains difficult to grasp.