By now it has become well-known that Syrian rebel fighters under the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army have been deployed to Libya as part of Turkey’s effort to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the forces led by Khalifa Haftar and the Tobruk-based government. Although the ceasefire agreement struck in Geneva in 23 October 2020 between the two sides included a provision in its second clause for the ‘departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from the Libyan lands by land and sea and air within three months from the date of the signing of the ceasefire,’ this measure has not actually been implemented so far. Indeed, today I was able to interview a Syrian rebel fighter currently deployed in Libya to learn more about who these rebel fighters are and what their motivations are.
The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own. Note that I have redacted some information to protect the person’s identity.
Q: Can you tell me in condensed form about yourself? When you were born, when you bore arms for the first time, with which formations you have fought etc.
A: I was born in 1988. I first bore arms from the first month of 2012. I fought with Liwa al-Tawheed against the regime in the city of Aleppo.
Q: And you remained with Liwa al-Tawheed until what date? I mean did you remain with it after it became the Shami Front and left Aleppo city?
A: Yes. [I remained until] the end of 2016 when we got out of the siege of Aleppo.
Q: And after that with which formations did you fight? And when did you go to Libya?
A: With the al-Hamzat [al-Hamza Division], after that al-Mu’atasim [Division]. And I first went to Libya with [redacted] on date [redacted]. I remained for three months and 20 days, and then I returned to Syria. I went again to Libya with [redacted] from date [redacted], and until now I am present in Libya.
Q: I see. So the formations that are fighting in Libya: who are they exactly?
A: The al-Hamzat, the al-Mu’atasim, Sultan Murad, Sultan Suleiman Shah, Sultan Muhammad Fatih and Faylaq al-Majd.*
Q: For what reasons do the fighters go? What are the promises and compensations exactly?
A: When I first began, they promised us $2000 and Turkish nationality, but when we got here we obtained salaries different that were not as promised in Syria. The salaries have become $1400 every two months.
Q: And have they given you Turkish nationality as they promised?
A: No. I have been wounded in Libya and they did not give me anything.
Q: In what battles have the fighters in Libya participated and what is the number of martyrs approximately?
A: In Salah al-Din, Wadi al-Rabi’, the airport, Ain Zarah. The number of martyrs is 1000 approximately.
Q: According to your assessment has the role of the Syrian fighters been very important in the battles? Or how would you describe the role of the Syrian fighters?
A: With regards to the battles that are in Libya, they are nothing like what has happened in Syria in these ten years. Ordinary matters. With regards to the Syrian fighters, they have gone to Libya out of hunger and difficult circumstances in Syria.
Q: Yes, so the role of the Syrian fighters is ordinary, not something like elite forces or the like.
A: Very ordinary. But here the topographies of the land differ for us. You know the one who fighters in his land fights out of creed [/ideology].
Q: What is the role of the fighters currently?
A: Currently in the training camps.
Q: Is the role an embodiment of ribat [front-line manning] and this kind of thing?
Q: Finally are most of the fighters in Libya veterans from the revolution or new recruits from after 2016?
A: The majority are [new] recruits.
Q: Do you have a message for anyone thinking of going to Libya?
A: By God, people are going out of hunger and the circumstances in Syria: there is no power or force except in God, that is the best thing.
*(Note): for an overview of these formations, see the outline of the structure of the Syrian National Army that I composed.