Reuters quoted two senior Turkish government officials and two other sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as saying on Monday that Ankara planned to send militants from the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) to Libya but that it had not yet deployed any.
“Evaluations are being made and meetings are being held on this issue, and there is a tendency to go in this direction,” said one source, adding that no decision had been made on numbers yet.
Turkey has previously backed — and been backed by — the FSA militants, who have been fighting the Syrian government roughly since 2011.
On October 9, Turkish army forces and the militants of the FSA launched a cross-border offensive into northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to clear Kurdish militants from near the Turkish border.
It was unclear whether Ankara was mulling sending Syrian militants as part of a first deployment into Libya.
Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two rival camps: one based in the eastern city of Tobruk, and the other, the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, in the capital, Tripoli.
A renegade general, Khalifa Haftar, is the self-proclaimed commander of an array of militia groups, collectively known as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), and is apparently supporting the eastern camp.
Turkey supports Libya’s internationally-recognized government in Tripoli, which has been under assault by Haftar’s forces trying to seize the capital for nine months, while the LNA receives support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The LNA has also previously seized a Turkish vessel, although it has released it afterwards.
Meanwhile, legislative approval is expected in Turkey to approve the deployment of troops to Libya, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Separately, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited sources as saying that 300 Ankara-backed Syrian militants had already been sent to Libya while others were being trained in Turkish camps.
A video circulating online purportedly shows Syrian militants deployed by Turkey in Libya.
Video shows Syrian rebel fighters in Libyan capital Tripoli neighbourhood.
One fighter can be heard saying “Allah Akbar .. the Free Syrian Army is in Libya to defend Islam”#Libya #Turkey pic.twitter.com/gsNYxgqi1Y— LibyaReview (@LibyaReview) December 28, 2019
The footage could not be independently verified.
And there was no immediate reaction from Ankara to the Observatory’s report.
A source within the FSA told Reuters that the group was not being deployed to Libya, but that Syrian militants in Syria and Turkey had signed up on an individual basis to work as paid “bodyguards” for a Turkish security company to protect bases and headquarters that Turkish forces will use in Libya.
Last month, Ankara and the Tripoli government signed an expanded security and military cooperation accord, which irked the power base in the east of Libya.
The Turkish parliament has already approved the bilateral security accord and the Libyan government has ratified it. However, for Turkey to deploy troops to Libya, a separate mandate is needed from the parliament.
The deployment bill was sent to parliament on Monday, prompting the main opposition party to reject it on the grounds it would exacerbate the conflict in Libya.
The bill’s text warns that Haftar’s militia have threatened Turkish companies in Libya and Turkish ships in the Mediterranean.
The reported dispatch of the militants to Libya, effectively using them as mercenaries, raises concerns of an escalation in the Libyan conflict.
Libya has been the scene of fighting between rival groups since the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. His ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.