Turkey is planning to send its ally Syrian fighters to Libya with which it signed a security agreement in November; four senior Turkish sources told Reuters on Monday.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Turkish authorities said Turkey had not yet sent anyone as part of the planned deployment under the Libyan deal.
They refuted an online video that allegedly showed Syrian fighters deployed by Turkey in Libya.
“It is currently not the case that Turkey is sending (Syrian rebel fighters) to Libya. But evaluations are being made, and meetings are being held on this issue, and there is a tendency to go in this direction. There is no final decision on how many members will go there,” said one of the officials.
Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) also said on Sunday that the video was false and actually shot in the Syrian province of Idlib.
However, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 300 Turkey-backed Syrian fighters had been sent to Libya, with others being trained in Turkish camps.
On the Syrian side, the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Monday denied that Ankara had requested it send its fighters to Libya, while an FSA military source confirmed the deployment of the Syrian fighters in Libya. However, he said they were deployed in their personal capacity and not as FSA members.
The Syrian “bodyguards” were individually signing up to work for a Turkish security company that was charged with protecting Turkish facilities in Libya to be used by Turkey’s armed forces, the unnamed FSA source claimed.
Turkey was ready to deploy troops to help the UN-recognized GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, fighting an offensive by General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week.
“The [Turkish] military’s experience abroad [in Syria] will be very useful in Libya. However, there is the possibility of using the experience of Syrian fighters as well. After parliament accepts the mandate, a step may be taken in this direction,” said one of the Turkish security officials.
The security accord between Turkey and Libya was ratified by the two countries’ parliaments earlier in December.
Based on that, a troop deployment bill, which has been rejected by opposition parties, was sent to the Turkish parliament on Monday.
Earlier, during the ratification talks on the deal in the parliament, Unal Cevikoz from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had claimed that Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement, which has influenced many other Muslim-populated countries, including Syria, Libya, and Turkey.
“You [the AKP] back the Ihvan [the Muslim Brotherhood] wherever you find [the movement]. You are supporting the Brotherhood-affiliated GNA by saying, ‘they are an internationally recognized government.’ However, you are not backing the UN-recognized government in Syria. Instead, you are supporting the opposition there as they are from the Ihvan,” Cevikoz said at the time.
Erdogan’s AKP government argues that it aims to prevent Libya from sliding into a civil war and that Turkish companies in Libya, as well as ships in the Mediterranean, will be negatively impacted if the LNA is not stopped.
As is the case in Syria, Turkey, and Russia back opposing parties in Libya. Moscow supports Haftar’s LNA, which has made small gains in recent weeks against the Ankara-backed GNA.
Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Turkey has been backing al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militants fighting the Russia-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime.
In October, Turkey-backed Syrian fighters spearheaded a Turkish incursion into northeast Syria against the Western-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).