Turkey has been sending Syrian fighters affiliated with extremist groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State to Libya to fight on behalf of the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, citing two Libyan militia leaders and a Syrian war monitor.
Turkey has brought more than 4,000 Syrian rebels into Tripoli, and dozens of them are linked to extremist groups, two Libyan militia leaders speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AP.
Turkey has not confirmed or denied reports of its sending Syrian fighters to Libya to fend off an assault by General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls much of the east and south of the country, the AP said. The Turkish military also did not respond to requests for comment, it said.
Syrian fighters have fought alongside Turkish armed forces in Turkey’s three military operations into northern Syria since 2016. Turkey last year rebranded different factions of Syrian fighters as the Syrian National Army (SNA).
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has identified at least 130 former Islamic State or al Qaeda fighters among the approximately 4,700 Turkey-backed Syrian mercenaries sent to fight for Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s government, Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the war-monitoring network, told the AP.
A Libyan official at the prime minister’s office told the news wire that Syrian fighters had been in Libya since early August. The Syrian fighters were at first facilitating the work of Turkish military experts, but after the clashes in Tripoli accelerated in December, their numbers have increased and now they are being deployed to the front lines, the official said.
Representatives of the GNA, which is supported by Turkey and Qatar, and the LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and to a certain extent by Russia, began meetings in Geneva on Tuesday to work toward a permanent ceasefire in Libya.