Two thousand Syrian fighters have travelled from Turkey or will arrive imminently to fight on the battlefields of Libya, Syrian sources in all three countries have said, in an unprecedented development that threatens to further complicate the north African state’s intractable civil war.
The deployment came after Turkey agreed last month to come to the aid of the Libyan prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, who is backed by the UN, in the face of a months-long campaign by his rival, the warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Ankara has supported the Syrian opposition since the early days of the battle against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, even as the original Free Syrian Army umbrella group grew weak and splintered because of infighting and the growth of Islamist elements within rebel ranks. Turkey now uses some rebel fighters as proxies against Kurdish-led forces despite allegations of human rights abuses from watchdogs.
“This is a very different situation to Syria,” said Claudia Gazzini, a senior Libya analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Anti-Turkish sentiment is already strong because of Ankara’s intervention and could grow as a result of this, playing in Haftar’s favour.”
An initial deployment of 300 men from the second division of the Syrian National Army (SNA), an umbrella of Syrian rebel groups funded by Turkey, left Syria through the Hawar Kilis military border crossing on 24 December, followed by 350 more on 29 December.
Read more: the guardian