Turkey plans to send 6,000 Syrian fighters to Libya – human rights monitor

Turkey has sent 2,400 of a planned 6,000 Syrian rebel fighters to fight for the U.N.-recognised Libyan government in Tripoli, a human rights monitor from Syria reported.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA)’s ranks have already been swelled by the Syrians less than two months after it signed a military cooperation deal with Turkey, and a further 1,700 fighters are currently being trained in Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Turkey is backing the GNA against the eastern-based Libyan National Army, which has gained control of most of the east and south of the country over years of fighting and last year began an offensive to seize the capital city.

The survival of the Tripoli government is of vital importance for Ankara since the pair have signed a maritime borders deal that boosts Turkey’s claim to strategically important areas of the eastern Mediterranean and potentially lucrative hydrocarbon resources there.

November’s military cooperation deal paved the way for Turkey to deploy troops to Libya, but the Turkish soldiers will be limited to a training and advisory role. It is the Syrian auxiliaries who are being deployed to join the fray at the frontlines, the Guardian reported last week.

In exchange the fighters, most of whom were displaced from their home areas during the eight-year conflict in Syria, receive a $2,000 monthly salary paid by Tripoli that dwarfs the pay they earned from the Turkish government when they fought in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“I live in a tent and my salary is 300 liras ($50) that is not even enough for my food,” the monitor quoted one fighter as saying. “So, going to Libya where I will take $2,000, is better than fighting in east Euphrates.”

But the deployment puts them face-to-face with dangerous opponents from the Libyan National Army, who are backed by Emirati air power and other military aid from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and, reports say, Russian mercenaries.

Twenty-four Syrian fighters have been killed since deployment to Libya began, the Syrian Human Rights Observatory said.

As European officials expressed concerns that the Libyan conflict was spiralling toward being a full-blown regional proxy war, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Libyan National Army leader Khalifa Haftar attended peace talks in Berlin on Sunday alongside other regional leaders.

The talks laid the groundwork for a deal that would turn a temporary ceasefire agreement into a permanent truce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the conference.