JEDDAH: Factions of the Turkish-backed opposition Syrian National Army are recruiting minors to fight in Libya, according to a report from Al-Monitor.
The report looks at Turkey’s use of Syrian rebels to consolidate the power of Libya’s Government of National Accord against General Khalifa Haftar.
Ankara is a long-time backer of rebel groups currently fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, among them Syrian teenagers with forged identity papers who are said to have been recruited for fighting alongside rebels deployed to overseas battlefields.
It has been reported that the recruitment of child soldiers, who are promised a decent salary, is still ongoing, especially in the ranks of the Turkish-backed Syrian Sultan Murad faction.
Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said Ankara had sought to increasingly involve itself in Libya since November after wrapping up its offensive in northern Syria.
“Ankara’s goal is to use Libya to acquire rights to gas off the coast and also to send Syrian rebels to Libya in order to remove them from Turkey and Idlib, giving them a distraction by sending them to fight in a foreign war,” he told Arab News. “Ankara’s leadership is now seeking to threaten to expand operations in Libya, where it has sent weapons, hoping that a war of words with the LNA (Haftar’s Libyan National Army) will result in European support for Turkey or concessions by Russia in Idlib. Turkey has used these threats in the past to wring concessions from the EU and US.”
An independent Syrian newspaper, Jesrpress, reported in January that a 17-year-old Syrian boy had died while fighting in Libya in the ranks of the Sultan Murad faction and that his body was sent to his family via Turkey. Images of his burial could be seen on YouTube.
Ankara has not yet commented about the allegations or the death of the teen.
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Oil-rich Libya has been gripped by chaos since longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted and killed in 2011, with rival administrations in the east and west vying for power.
Last month the UN-recognised GNA rejected a truce unilaterally called by Haftar, saying it “did not trust” its eastern-based rival.
Ankara considers Haftar’s forces to be “putschists” and has criticized the UN for remaining silent on developments in Libya that it calls “war crimes.”
Frantzman said that allegations of Turkey recruiting child soldiers from Syria should be taken seriously. The real problem was that, despite attempts to enforce an embargo on the Libya conflict by Western countries, Turkey among other countries had been permitted to fuel the war with impunity.
“The recruiting of Syrians to fight in Libya was already an abuse of vulnerable people by Ankara, which has claimed it is helping Syrians,” he added. “Ankara also seeks to use Libya as a test-bed for its new drones such as the Bayraktar. Libya is thus a proxy war for Ankara, a way to distract from failures in Idlib, a war to distract Syrians and get both potential profits through trade and test weapons.”
Qatar has also reportedly funded the dispatch of Syrian mercenaries to Libyan battlegrounds.
The UN warned in January, without naming names, that some countries supporting belligerent factions in Libya had violated an international arms embargo.
France subsequently accused Turkey of sending warships and Syrian fighters to the North African country by violating its previous commitments that were made during an international conference on Libya.
In late March, Egypt also accused Turkey of exporting “extremists” from Syria to Libya in a letter submitted to the UN Security Council.
More than 275 Syrian mercenaries fighting alongside GNA forces have died in Libya so far.
The allegations about Syrian children being sent to Libya contradicts basic international norms, such as the UN Optional Protocol on the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Syria, Libya and Turkey are party to the protocol.