Erdogan nurtures elite mercenary force to rival Russia’s Wagner Group

Erdogan seeks to expand Turkey’s military influence abroad, restoring its Ottoman-era glory as the Islamic world’s foremost power

In the eyes of some, he is the Islamic world’s most powerful gun-for-hire, a well-connected ex-general with thousands of battle-hardened Syrian mercenaries at his command. A close confidant of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Adnan Tanriverdi claims expertise in all the dark arts of warfare, from sabotage and counter-insurgency to assassinations.

But as with many prominent soldiers of fortune, it can be hard separating the man from the myth. Is he, as critics say, Mr Erdogan’s private henchman, running secret Islamist armies in Libya and Syria? Or is he, as he himself claims, just a respectable patriot who has been smeared by the president’s enemies?

“We haven’t sent any mercenaries or other personnel to Syria or Libya,” he insisted to The Telegraph last week, after he was accused by the US government of dispatching thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya. “I would like to highlight again that our firm is not a mercenary organization. It doesn’t have any connections with terrorist organizations or groups.”

Generals at the Pentagon’s Africa Command beg to differ. In a report to the US government earlier this month, they said Sadat was supervising around 5,000 Syrian mercenaries – including “extremists with previous terrorist links” – in Libya. The hired guns were said to fighting for the Government of National Accord, the side Ankara has backed in Libya’s civil war.

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The report said the mercenaries, allegedly paid and mentored by several dozen Sadat trainers, had helped the GNA retake territory from Khalifa Haftar, the Gaddafi-era strongman backed by Turkey’s rivals, the UAE and Egypt. But it claimed that many of the fighters had also run amok. “There were increasing reports of theft, sexual assault and misconduct by these mercenaries, which is likely to further degrade the security situation,” it said.

Read more: The Telegraph