Syrian mercenaries in Libya reportedly desert, flee to Italy

Supporters of Libyan National Army (LNA), celebrate on top of a Turkish military armored vehicle, which LNA said they confiscated during Tripoli clashes. (Reuters)

Reports have emerged recently that a number of the Syrian mercenaries fighting in Libya on behalf of Turkey have already deserted their ranks and fled to Italy, according to a report in the French daily Le Monde, which quoted French intelligence sources.

French President Emmanuel Macron had accused Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday of breaking promises made at the Berlin conference on Libya after Turkish warships and Syrian fighters arrived in the north African country to fight against Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar in early January.

A French military source also said on Thursday, that France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier spotted a Turkish frigate escorting a cargo ship this week delivering armored vehicles to the Libyan capital Tripoli in defiance of a UN embargo, AFP reported.

There are allegedly plans to send an additional 6,000 troops, according to reports from mercenaries.

LNA spokesman Major General Ahmed Al-Mismari said mercenaries sent by Turkey “do not believe that they will be returning to Turkey or Syria, so trying to get to Europe is the most logical option for them.”

In a press conference the day before the January 19 Berlin conference that any party from Libya did not participate in, al-Mismari asked Erdogan: “Do you know that in the last 48 hours, over 41 Syrian terrorists went to Italy through ports in Libya?”

The mercenaries’ arrival comes months after Haftar launched his military attack on Tripoli in April and equipment and fighters are in short supply. While Haftar’s army, the Libyan National Army has several foreign backers, its rival in Tripoli, the Government National Accord (GNA), only has one foreign military backer – Turkey.

While initially reluctant to put boots on the ground in Libya, Turkish parliamentarians passed a bill in early January to send troops in support of the GNA.

The mercenaries are seen to be loyal to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, but some fought with anti-Assad opposition groups in Syria. Others fought for the regime, and yet others were civilians before entering Libya. The mercenaries are part of a larger Turkish-backed Syrian militia, the Sultan Murad Division, which recently has been accused of human rights abuses.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the mercenaries are offered $2,000 salaries, and Turkish citizenships if they complete six months in deployment, the SOHR said in an earlier report.

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