The Libyan ceasefire initiative announced last week drew the attention of the international community to the importance of combating mercenaries in the Middle East. Syria is being used as a platform to move terrorist militias across the borders to change the outcome of conflicts in other countries.
This was the case when Turkey moved more than 17,000 mercenaries from Syria to Libya to tip the scales in favour of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), an ally of Islamist groups, on top of which is the Muslim Brotherhood.
Analysts have observed the international community is increasingly worried Libya and neighbouring African countries will become a hub for terrorist organisations, particularly Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Moreover, a military confrontation in Libya is a threat to stability, not only in Libya, but in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Sahel and Sahara region as well.
Despite the declaration of the ceasefire initiative, the international welcome it received, and the efforts made to effect it, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hasn’t stopped the recruitment of Syrian mercenaries loyal to Ankara to send them to fight in Libya. Erdogan ignored the ceasefire declaration by the GNA, which he supports militarily, and its call for elections.
The latest report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a new batch of mercenaries were dispatched from Turkey to Libya for training in camps. They were recruited in Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib and it is expected Libya is their final destination. The move begs the question about the seriousness of the GNA to commit to a ceasefire at a time Turkey is still recruiting Syrian mercenaries.
The Syrian Observatory statistics show 17,420 Syrian recruits were dispatched to Libya, including 350 children below the age of 18. The observatory confirmed that since the security and military agreement signed between GNA head Fayez Al-Sarraj and Erdogan in November 2019, operations to move Turkish fighters and Syrian mercenaries to Libya have not seized despite international calls to support the ceasefire and Turkish pledges to commit to it at the Berlin Conference in January.
Turkey is still hoping to maintain its military presence in Libya through mercenaries and the military bases it established in Misrata and Watiya. This is the reason Ankara is still sending more mercenaries to support Al-Sarraj’s government. Its moves are now confused, however, particularly after Egypt had announced its support of the ceasefire and refusal of the presence of foreign forces in Libya, its western neighbour. For instance, if general elections will be held in Libya in March, new national blocs will emerge and they will not allow the presence of mercenaries and foreign military bases on their land.
Turkey needs to rearrange its moves based on the new reality on the ground in Libya. Its political, economic and military calculations became inaccurate, especially after the maritime demarcation agreement signed between Egypt and Greece. The maritime agreement is a deafening blow to Turkey and has doomed to failure maritime demarcation plans between Turkey and the GNA.
The success of a Libyan settlement is based on the regional and international will to reach a peaceful national accord. The Libyan crisis is primarily the result of the exacerbation of foreign interventions and the arms control exercised by terrorist militias and organisations that have also imposed hegemony over state institutions. These factors have resulted in the collapse of the Libyans’ living conditions, the spread of crime and chaos, and the systematic plunder of state resources.
The Egyptian initiative to solve the Libyan crisis, announced a few months ago, prioritised the expulsion of mercenaries, halting the blatant Turkish interference in Libya’s affairs, and the disbanding of militias.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly