“I came for the money”: Interview with a Turkish-backed Syrian mercenary in Libya

When Turkish President Erdogan announced he would be sending men from the so-called “Syrian National Army,” also known as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) to Libya to fight in support of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, rumors among the Syrian opposition began to swirl.

One TFSA commander in Afrin said that fighters would be paid $2000 per month. “It’s around $100 here in Syria, or $2,000 there. It’s an easy choice for them,” he said. He mentioned that recruitment efforts were heavily focused on areas in and around Idlib recently recaptured from the Syrian opposition by the Syrian government and Russia. “They’re homeless. Erdogan lures them with this as a way to rebuild their lives for their families.”

The TFSA commander mentioned that the TFSA was offering a sort of recruitment bonus of a couple hundred dollars for those who didn’t want to travel to Libya to fight but knew someone who did and referred them. “And it’s not just fighters they are sending,” the commander said. “It’s also civilians who are poor and willing to go. They have to hit certain numbers every time they send a plane.” To date, an estimated 3,000 TFSA members have traveled to Libya.

The Investigative Journal managed to interview one TFSA mercenary stationed at a camp in Tripoli. We can’t reveal his name, but we will call him “Ahmed.” We can’t reveal the name of his faction, or his exact location.

President Erdogan has claimed that there are no Turkish soldiers on the ground in Libya, and that only Turkish military commanders and advisors had traveled to Tripoli. Ahmed says this isn’t true. “There are Turkish soldiers here. Not just commanders. There are a lot of Turkish soldiers, but not as many as there are Syrians. They’re living in a separate place. And they’re treated better than us.”

Read more: investigative journal