New Report Says 5,000 Turkish-Backed Syrian Rebels Deployed to Libya

According to a Janes report from early September approximately 5,000 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have been deployed to Libya to support the Government of National Accord (GNA). The report quotes sources from the US Africa Command and the US Office of the Inspector General. The same sources reveal that dozens of military advisors of the Turkish company SADAT are also in Libya, training the Syrian fighters and monitoring the day-to-day operations of Turkish-affiliated militias. Rumors around SADAT have started circulating shortly after the publication of the report, and some recent comments of the company’s President Adnan Tanriverdi for the Daily Telegraph did not provide any further clarity. We shall now have a brief look into the company that according to many commentators could be the Turkish counterpart to the Russian Wagner Group on the Libyan front. Who is Adnan Tanriverdi? Adnan Tanriverdi is the founder and current President of SADAT Board of Directors. A former General in the Turkish Armed Forces, Tanriverdi was discharged back in 1996 allegedly due to concerns around his strong religious beliefs. Tanriverdi became widely known to the public in August 2016, when President Recep Erdogan chose him as his new military advisor. The appointment came shortly after the failed coup attempt against the Turkish President; this move indicated Erdogan’s intention to establish a network of supporters and allies in key positions of the country’s administration in order to cement his position in the long-term and diminish any internal threats that might lead to another regime change attempt. Further to his SADAT Presidency, Tanriverdi was also appointed President of the Turkish-based NGO Association of Justice Defenders back in 2004,, a Group Member of the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World. What is the SADAT International Defense Consultancy? SADAT is a private registered company, providing Security and Military Training and Consultancy Services. It was founded in 2012 by Tanriverdi who has also been serving as President since then. The personnel is exclusively composed of Army Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the Turkish Armed Forces from all ranks, with many having a Special Forces background. As clearly stated the company is not providing services to individuals; SADAT is working entirely with branches of the Turkish government and possibly with fellow Muslim governments which hold friendly ties with Ankara. The company’s Vision and Mission is to “reorganize or modernize the Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces of Islamic Countries in a modern and effective sense to ensure National Defense and Internal Security.” Inspired by the concept of Private Military and Defense Companies, which has thrived in Western Countries over the past decades, Tanriverdi came up with a plan to establish a Turkish Private Military Company that would fit in an anti-Western religious and political context. The ex-military personnel, which should be estimated at approximately a hundred individuals directly employed by SADAT, is reportedly utilizing its broad experience in the Turkish Armed Forces to deliver services ranging from urban warfare operations training to training courses for helicopter pilots. A Counterweight to the Wagner Group? Even though SADAT has been presented by mainstream media, as the Turkish equivalent to the Russian Wagner Group, there are some critical differences. Wagner has managed to establish its presence out of nothing. The term Wagner today refers to any Russian-affiliated foreign fighter operating abroad. There is no official record about Wagner, its activity is not advertised online or through other means and there is no company registered under that name either in Russia or abroad. The “Wagner Group” is a ghost entity pushing Kremlin’s interests overseas, and since it doesn’t officially exist, the Russian President and his administration can’t be held accountable for the activity of the Group under any circumstances. On the other hand, SADAT does officially exist and there is nothing secret about its presence and area of operations. Headquartered in Istanbul and under Tanrverdi’s leadership the company does not seem to be keeping anything covert about its very existence. The company is publicly advertising its activity through its website and the press. There is a precise organizational chart and an approximate estimation on the number of personnel acting as consultants and advisors. In this respect there is no point comparing the ambiguous and shadowy Wagner group to the commercial entity registered in the issue 8015 of “Turkish Trade Registry Gazette” and doing business under the name “SADAT International Defense Consulting Construction Industry and Trade Inc.” Evaluating Claims of SADAT in Libya Until now there have been many claims that SADAT has a presence in Libya, and the latest AFRICOM report comes to further strengthen these assumptions. Tanriverdi for his part has repeatedly rejected these claims. The most probable scenario is that SADAT personnel could be actively involved in the Libyan front, however no traceable connection between the company and operators deployed to Libya should be expected. The fact that SADAT is gaining international attention could also prove to be a very useful tool for massive recruitment if played right by the Turkish authorities. In the case of Wagner we have seen that the wide media coverage urged hundreds of Syrians to rush to sign up with Wagner for a deployment in Libya. We should not expect by no means an open recruitment process for fighters willing to fight in Libya or Syria on behalf of the company; however the public talk around SADAT could prompt several individuals to become involved in one of the Turkish fronts abroad, with the company acting strictly as an initial point of contact, if there is any involvement in the whole process at all. In the case of Wagner, President Vladimir Putin, a mastermind in psychological operations and political manipulation, undoubtedly managed to turn the whole Wagner story to his advantage. We only need to stand by and see if Ankara could exploit the noise around SADAT in a similar way at this particular moment.

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Libya’s Sarraj Calls It Quits, Opening Door For All Scenarios

The head of Libya’s internationally-recognized government Fayez al Sarraj has called it quits. His departure comes almost five years after presiding over the government and the Presidential Council that controls most of western Libya. Al Sarraj Announces His Departure: ‘No Later Than the End of October’ He said in a televised address on Wednesday that he would remain in office to the end of October, until a new presidential council is elected. “I declare my sincere desire to hand over my duties to the next executive authority no later than the end of October,” Sarraj said, adding that “hopefully, the dialogue committee will complete its work and choose a new presidential council and prime minister.” Sarraj’s move opens the door for speculation over the future of the political situation in Tripoli, the Libyan capital where his Government of National Accord (GNA) is based, along with the presidential council. It also raises questions on the future of the Libya conflict as a whole. Sensitive Timing Al Sarraj’s resignation declaration comes as Tripoli boils in anger over the GNA’s failure in addressing the problems of its residents and catering to their needs. Tripoli’s residents complain against electricity cuts and the lack of fuel and basic necessities. They staged a series of protests over the past few days. However, the protests were quelled by armed groups believed to be affiliated to the GNA. The resignation declaration also comes at a time of major power struggles and rifts within the GNA, especially between Sarraj on one hand and his interior minister Fathi Bashagha on the other. Bashagha is believed to be pulling most of the strings in Tripoli, being in control of most of the militias and armed groups that control the Libyan capital. International Power Play? There is belief that Sarraj’s resignation is part of an agreement between international and regional parties to the Libyan conflict to settle this conflict. Libya has descended into civil war since the downfall of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. This civil war opened the door for international and regional interference in Libya, namely through support of local parties to the conflict. Apart from being recognized by the United Nations, the GNA receives support from Turkey which sends arms and mercenaries to Libya. Turkish support succeeded in reviving GNA hopes for gaining a sizable space on Libya’s political map. It also succeeded in repelling a 14-month campaign on Tripoli and western Libya by the GNA’s rival force, namely the Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls most of eastern and southern Libya. The LNA, which is commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Gaddafi era army officer, receives support from a long list of states, including France, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. “Sarraj’s resignation is a reflection of the presence of an international will for settling the conflict in Libya,” said Abdel Qadir Qazit, a member of the Supreme State Council, an affiliate of the GNA. “There are international arrangements for forming a new presidential council, one in which Sarraj will have no place,” Qazit added. Sarraj’s resignation comes also while representatives of the GNA and LNA hold talks in Morocco. The talks followed the declaration of a ceasefire throughout Libya by the GNA, on one hand, and the House of Deputies, the eastern Libya parliament, on the other. Al Sarraj: Libya Was Targeted by ‘Internal and External Conspiracies Every Day’ Sarraj said in his televised address on Wednesday that his government worked in tough conditions. “The government was the target of internal and external conspiracies every day,” he said. He said all talks aiming at reaching a political settlement to the conflict in Libya failed because some parties he did not name always wanted war. This also opens the door for uncertainties on the future of the conflict in Libya after Sarraj’s resignation and whether this resignation can give the go-ahead for further power struggles inside the GNA. The formation of a new presidential council as a prelude for negotiations between Libya’s rivals to open the door for general elections and then a comprehensive settlement of the conflict were stipulated in an Egyptian initiative for ending the war in Libya. The Cairo Declaration The initiative, known as Cairo Declaration, was welcomed by most western powers. Nevertheless, it was rejected by Turkey and the GNA. Representatives of Sarraj arrived in Cairo a few days ago to hold talks with Egyptian officials on means of ending the conflict in Libya. There was not a statement on the talks from the Egyptian government, but observers expect them to have focused on pushing the Egyptian blueprint for resolving the conflict in Libya forward. Nevertheless, some Libyan officials believe Sarraj’s resignation amounts to more than a political maneuver. By making his resignation conditional on the success of the dialogue committee which holds talks in Morocco now in forming a new presidential council and naming a new prime minister, Sarraj wants to shirk responsibility for either staying in office or leaving. “So, if the committee fails in forming a new presidential council and naming a prime minister, Sarraj can stay in office,” said Gaballah al Shibani, a member of the eastern Libya parliament. “This will give him the chance to claim that he does not cling to power, but it is the committee that failed in paving the road for his exit,” al Shibani added.

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Why the Moroccan Dialog is the First Step Toward Peace in Libya

Morocco and Egypt recently presided over joint talks between rival leaders in Libya and it’s been reported that both sides have been able to secure some substantial breakthroughs, particularly regarding elections and uniting rival governments. Dubbed the Libyan Dialog, the talks brought together five participants from the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which controls the capital, Tripoli, as well as the northwest, and five figures from the House of Representatives (HoR), based in Tobruk. An Agreement Seems Possible Although the HoR’s Idris Omran did not provide further details on the objectives that both sides agreed to, the two groups said that they would meet again during the final week of September to finalize mechanisms that would implement the agreement. Consultations also took place in Montreux, Switzerland, on September 7 to 9 under the auspices of the Center for Humanitarian Dialog. Stephanie Williams, the UN’s interim envoy to Libya, told Al-Jazeera that the Montreux talks “would provide a basis for all responsible Libyan stakeholders to forge the way forward.” Elections in Libya May Soon Become a Reality While it was not clear if any of the discussions in Morocco included binding agreements, members of both delegations said that one of the key points of agreement was to split positions in the ruling Council of State from among Libya’s three geographic regions. Negotiators are due to meet in Switzerland on September 17, and they have agreed that elections must be held on a mutually acceptable constitutional framework. Considering the GNA and the LNA, led by General Khalifa Haftar, have been engaged in a long civil war that has allowed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to take advantage of the chaos in the war-torn country, this is a remarkable achievement. If both sides play their cards carefully, they could realistically end the Libyan war in the near future. Peace Seemed Unlikely Only a Few Months Ago Steps toward peace did not seem possible months ago. In June, increased Turkish support allowed pro-GNA forces to seize control of northwest Libya, which devastated Haftar’s plans to occupy Tripoli. The strategic city of Sirte, which could provide Russia with a gateway to dominate the ports of Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Marsa al-Brega and Zuwetina, where three gas conduits and 11 oil pipelines reach the Mediterranean coast, also became a bone of contention between Ankara and Moscow at one stage. Until the war is over, a siege on the city still seems possible. However, the Geneva talks will be much harder than the ones held last week. Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Arab states must oppose Turkish interference during a meeting in Cairo. Yet it is almost certain that both Turkey and Russia will want a stake in determining Libya’s future. The Arab Weekly reports that the GNA was opposed to Turkey’s withdrawal from Libya and it is likely this issue will cause a stir in future peace talks. They added that Erdoğan was unhappy about being excluded from the Moroccan talks. Russia and Turkey May Jeopardize Peace Russian and Turkish ambitions in Libya could become an obstacle to peace and both nations may carve the country up between them. For example, Turkey could acquiesce to Russian control of al-Jufra in return for Sirte. It will be interesting to see if Ankara and Moscow fulfill their territorial aspirations in the region and how far they are willing to go to do so. The Libyan people are also crucial for peace to become a reality. This was acknowledged by Russian Ambassador Aleksei Erkho. Thomas M. Hill of the US Institute of Peace believes that Libya’s citizens have played an active role in making peace possible through initiatives like successfully convincing young people in the city of Misrata to quit the local militia. Therefore, the Libyan people themselves must provide their consent for any peace agreement. The Libyan Dialog has helped guarantee the beginning of the end of the Libyan conflict, but there are still many stages to go yet.

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Libya’s Ceasefire Should Set a Precedent for Syria

Following the announcement of the Libyan ceasefire two weeks ago, delegates from Libya’s National Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA) met for talks in Morocco on Sunday at the behest of the Moroccan Government. The Libyan Dialog Dubbed the Libyan Dialog, the discussions brought together five members of the GNA and five from a parliament in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk. They met in Morocco’s coastal town of Bouznika, south of Rabat. The talks were a prelude to a significant meeting in Montreux, Switzerland to be held today and Tuesday that will bring together the leaders of Libya’s rival factions. The United Nations (UN) will be monitoring the talks closely and insisted that a solution to the Libyan war must be decided by the Libyan people themselves. The Libyan Ceasefire Would Pave the Way for a Truce in Syria The last decade witnessed the start of two almost seemingly endless conflicts in Libya and Syria, with Turkey and Russia vying for control over both nations. But if the Libyan ceasefire paves the way for a permanent and peaceful end to the war there, there is a chance that it could set a precedent for a ceasefire in Syria too. As Talmiz Ahmad of Arab News writes, Syria has too many fronts and too many contending players. Rather like with the Libyan city of Sirte, Idlib has become a city of strategic importance to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According to Ahmad, there are reports that the Syrian Government and its advisors are planning a major assault to decimate the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and seize control of this rebel territory. Turkey may also be negotiating with Russia the possible accommodation of its interests in Libya in exchange for its acceptance of some actions against HTS in Idlib. Erdoğan is supposedly adamant that the HTS is not a terrorist threat anymore, but a mainstream political entity. Peace is Dependent upon Diplomatic Action Diplomatic action has a role to play here. The Russian Government hosted a conclave of the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), and the Popular Will Party that it supports. The SDC wishes to maintain relations with Russia, despite its support from the US, as a means of restraining Turkey. Anything is possible once the assault in Idlib has taken place. One peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict is to rewrite Syria’s constitution, which was attempted at a meeting in Geneva. When one opposition leader demanded a ceasefire, all the parties involved in the Syrian war ignored this request. It seems like all the key players are focused on the upcoming siege of Idlib right now. The Syrian War is Only Getting Uglier by the Day US President Donald Trump, who was elected on a promise to end all of America’s “pointless” wars, should be interested in an end to the Syrian conflict as well. The US and Russian standoff in Syria risks prolonging a war that has lasted for too long. Four American troops were recently injured in the country and as Business Insider’s Christopher Mott argues, Syria’s oil reserves are not worth fighting over. Syria possesses 2,500,000,000 oil barrels, making it 31st in the world for its number of oil barrels. If anything, Washington’s presence in Syria is provoking Iran. US-Iranian disputes over Syria continue to foreshadow any solution toward peace. Iran’s mission to the UN has issued a statement saying Tehran will continue helping the Syrian Government after a spokesperson of the US State Department told Newsweek that removing Iranian-backed proxies is a key US objective. Washington and Tehran are unlikely to engage in a diplomatic solution to restore peace to Syria until they have resolved their differences over the end of Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal. The Libyan ceasefire shows that it is possible to pave the way for an end to continuous regional conflicts. The impetus for a Syrian ceasefire is there, but peace does not seem possible until the latest siege of Idlib has happened. Compared to Libya, the world could be waiting longer for a Syrian ceasefire until all sides can compromise over their objectives there. They must do so fast, because the Syrian war only continues to get uglier over time.

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