By Claude Salhani
Building a mercenary force in order to help direct one’s foreign policy is a strange way to conduct affairs of state, but those are the strange ways of the Middle East.
Just when you thought the Middle East could not get any more complicated, well, look again, because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is about to open a Pandora’s Box that will cause greater harm and present the region with yet more questions to which answers are practically impossible to find.
Erdogan, with an ego larger than the Bosphorous Tunnel, is now trying to deeply involve his country in Libya by deploying his military as well as hundreds of unpredictable hired guns in that troubled North African country.
Hundreds of fighters, including many militants and mercenaries outside the ranks of Turkey’s regular army, are already arriving in Libya, as admitted by Erdogan in an interview with CNN Turk last Sunday.
Most Libyans are wary of seeing Turkish troops add yet another layer to the military factions already deployed in Libya. What is needed in Libya are far fewer guns and more people with an open mind who would be able to negotiate the future of their country with people who don’t necessarily share their vision on how Libya should be governed. Regardless, at the end of the day Libyans will have to sit down and negotiate with other Libyans.
Bringing foreign elements, especially soldiers of fortune, into the picture will never be in Libya’s interest.
So if Erdogan can’t go in the front door, there is always the temptation of a back door. Emulating what the US did in Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion, Erdogan is building as an army of Turkish mercenaries that can then be deployed at his liking.
Already, advertisements by a Turkish contractor called SADAT, has gone out. They are seeking to recruit mercenaries on behalf of Ankara. The ad says the company is looking for “bodyguards” to provide protection for “Turkish personnel” working in Libya.
This is somewhat ironic since the personnel they claim to be protecting are really in no need for protection. They are members of the Turkish military dispatched by Erdogan to help save the Islamist camp of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord which already enjoys the support of a great many militants and armed militias.
The outcome of such a transaction is mind-boggling at best. Erdogan is offering to hire militiamen, Islamic militants and former military types of various hues to take part in invading another country (Libya). They are doing so as hired guns for a company linked to the Turkish government.
There is no mystery as to where the funds to pay the mercenary task force would come from. It is financed by non-other than the Erdogan government itself. SADAT, the contractor in question is led by close advisors and friends of the Turkish president.
Mercenaries working for Turkey would theoretically minimize Turkish casualties in Libya. But if the Syrian experience is any indication, the hundreds of mercenaries that are arriving in Libya are likely to commit similar abuses and atrocities which pro-Turkish militias and mercenaries have been suspected of perpetrating in Syria.
In fact this is not the first time that paramilitary forces are brought in to supplement or assist regular troops on a conflict.
The United States had hired more than 60,000 “contract workers” to back up regular to troops in Iraq. And a similar scheme was used in Afghanistan.
The US used primarily Virginia-based Blackwater for its mercenary force and the Russians did the same through a company called Wagner to send fighters abroad.
“Turkey must establish a private military company to assist and train foreign soldiers,” said retired Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi, chief military aide to President Erdoğan.
Tanrıverdi announced several times this month that thanks to a military deal Turkey signed with Libya’s UN-supported government on November 27, 2019, Turkey could send private contractors to Libya as the Russians allegedly did with the Wagner Group.
Erdogans’ military advisor owns the controversial private military contractor SADAT, which many believe is a de facto paramilitary force loyal to Erdoğan himself. The advisor to the Turkish president supported the idea of establishing a mercenary company that operates abroad, elaborating in an interview with a media outlet on how such a private army would be formed.
“Absolutely, Turkey needs a private company like Blackwater or Wagner,” Tanrıverdi said, indicating that it would be a new tool in Turkey’s foreign policy.
This establishes new – and very troublesome — parameters in the region, not least is under such circumstances, Turkey’s commitment to NATO comes into question.
The day may well come when Turkey’s mercenary force finds itself on the opposite side of a serious argument in which NATO holds a very different opinion.
Owners of SADAT do not hide their ideological colours. They want to promote a certain vision of Islam and Islamism through their mercenary plans.
Yet another slippery slope that could take Turkey and the rest of the region in charted and dangerous territory as mercenary wars have the bad habit of starting new wars that do not end and unleashing humanitarian disasters nobody wants