Some of the 2,000 Syrian fighters who were transported to Libya to fight alongside the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) against its rival Khalifa Haftar have reportedly fled to Europe, according to Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
UK-based media site the Investigative Journal today reported that LNA Major General Ahmed Al-Mismari said: “The mercenaries don’t believe that they will be returning to Turkey or Syria, so trying to get to Europe is the most logical option for them.”
According to Al-Mismari, “147 mercenaries paid down payments to go to Europe,” with at least dozens having reached Italy. In a statement at a press conference he gave on Saturday, the day before the Berlin conference on the Libyan peace process, Al-Mismari addressed his words at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, asking: “Do you know that in the last 48 hours, over 41 Syrian terrorists went to Italy through ports in Libya?”
The LNA claims some Syrian fighters using Turkey’s offer to fight in Libya to their advantage, with the aim of being smuggled to Europe once they abandon GNA forces. While such claims have not been verified by the GNA or other actors in the conflict, the case stems from a former Daesh fighter who was captured attempting to escape Libya and is now being held by the LNA. The former Daesh militant allegedly escaped from a prison in northern Syria belonging to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) before posing as a general opposition fighter to get to Libya and then to Europe.
Since the overthrow and killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been subject to two rival governments or factions within the country: the GNA which controls most of the west including the key city of Tripoli, and the Libya National Army (LNA) which controls the east and is led by the formerly-exiled Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar. Throughout the ongoing Libyan civil war, Turkey – along with the UN – has backed and militarily assisted the GNA against Haftar’s forces.
Turkey’s support for the government has led it to make wider steps in recent months to increase ties and military support for the GNA by signing pacts on military cooperation and maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of November. As part of these relations, Turkey offered direct military support last month in order to push back Haftar’s advance, which the GNA accepted and called for. As a result, Turkey has sent approximately 2,000 fighters from Syria to repel Haftar, along with a small contingent of Turkish officers and advisors to train and advise GNA forces.