Questions looming over Turkey’s recruitment of Syrian mercenaries - analyst

Ankara is using financial compensation and some religious propaganda of fighting imagined enemies in employing Syrian mercenaries to fight its wars in Syria, Libya and now Nagorno-Karabakh, Middle East affairs analyst Seth Frantzman wrote in the Jerusalem Post on Saturday.

Turkey has targeted poor and vulnerable Syrians in its recruitment with international impunity, in what is unusual practice for a NATO member, Frantzman wrote.

War monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that around 900 Syrian mercenaries were transported to Azerbaijan by Turkish security companies since conflict broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia last Sunday over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan deny such reports.

Turkey began by using Syrians to ostensibly fight in their own country, the analyst said, noting the group, recast as part of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and later rebranded the Syrian National Army (SNA), were often empowered by Ankara to commit abuses against Kurds, Christians and other minorities in the war-torn neighbouring country.

Meanwhile, thousands of members of Turkish-backed groups such as Hamza, Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sharqiya, Sultan Murad and the Suleiman Shah brigade went to Libya, the analyst wrote, where Ankara throws its weight behind the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Turkey's military support helped turn the tide earlier this year in the Libyan civil war, by successfully pushing back the GNA’s rival forces loyal to the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

It remains unclear why Turkey hasn’t created a more organised method of recruitment and continues to outsource and rely on various units in these conflicts, Frantzman said, suggesting that Ankara may be feeding off of Ottoman era examples of contractors and mercenaries.

“The question is whether Turkey will create permanent units, the way Iran has with foreign proxies, or hope that these units dissolve themselves and disappear,” Frantzman said.