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Pentagon Says Turkey Sent 3,500 Syrian Fighters To Back Libyan Government

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Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides in the Libyan conflict. (file photo)

The U.S. military says Turkey sent more than 3,500 Syrian fighters to Libya during the first three months of 2020 to help the North African country’s internationally recognized government in its civil war against a rebel commander.

The Defense Department’s report, seen by the Associated Press on July 17, was the U.S. military’s first to detail the Turkish deployments that helped change the course of the war in Libya.

The country has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the North African country’s longtime dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The current struggle pits rebel Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east of the country against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli.

Turkey has provided support for the GNA. Qatar and Italy have also backed the Tripoli-based government.

Russia has supported the rebels, mainly through the Kremlin-connected military contractor Vagner Group. France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates also back Haftar.

Both Russia and Turkey have been criticized by the UN and Western officials, who say their efforts to arm their allies have led to an intensification of the violence.

The United States has accused Moscow of deploying military jets to Libya to provide support for the Russian mercenaries

Moscow has denied the Russian state is responsible for any deployments of the Vagner group and denied sending aircraft to Libya.

The new Pentagon report says Turkey paid and offered citizenship to thousands of mercenaries fighting alongside Tripoli-based militias against Haftar's forces.

The report said no evidence was found to indicate that the Syrian fighters were affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group or Al-Qaeda, saying instead that they were “very likely” motivated by financial reasons than by ideology.

A string of Turkish-backed victories by the Tripoli forces has driven Haftar's troops from the capital’s suburbs and other strongholds since Ankara's deployment of forces.

The UN has been pressing the sides in the conflict to push forward with peace talks.

On July 18, Germany, France, and Italy warned that they were prepared to apply sanctions on those violating the UN embargo on arms flowing into Libya.

"We are prepared to consider a possible use of sanctions if infringements against the land, sea and air embargo continue," the three heads of government wrote in a joint statement on July 18, without naming a state or entity which could be the target.

"We therefore call on all Libyan parties as well as their international backers to put a stop to combat activities and the acquisition of arms in the entire country," said the statement, drawn up during a summit in Brussels, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

With reporting by AP
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