Mercenaries are in the shot for the time being
Earlier this month A freezer truck arrived at the Turkish-Syrian border, loaded with the bodies of 52 Syrian men, killed in a war about 140 km away. The dead were mercenaries from Turkish-backed militias in Syria, recruited to fight for Azerbaijan in the ongoing war against Armenia.
The American newspaper The Washington Post recently interviewed a cousin of 38-year-old Mahmoud Najjar, one of those killed. Najjar’s body was marked with the number 12. The cousin said that the 38-year-old had worked at a textile factory in Aleppo and had been offered to fight in Azerbaijan for a, in Syrian context, sky-high salary – 2000 dollars a month. The textile worker was part of the shock troops that were to take back parts of the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, but was killed in action immediately after his arrival.
The cousin thinks Najjar was completely unprepared for the job he was to do and that he left solely because of money.
– Who wants to go to Azerbaijan, who knows where Azerbaijan is? asked the cousin in the phone interview with The Washington Post.
This is just one of a number of stories that have emerged in recent weeks. All indications are that Turkey is engaged in a very extensive recruitment of Syrians for the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Several international media have reported the same thing, as has the French intelligence service. Several of the soldiers belong to the Turkish-backed militia, the Free Syrian Army, and many have said that they took the job because they thought they were guards at Azerbaijani oil installations.
The Turks have not only brought in mercenaries directly from Syria. In December last year, Turkey began sending Syrian militia troops to Libya to fight for the UN-backed government in Tripoli – also with high-wage offers. Several thousand were deployed in the fight against rebel general Khalifa Haftar. Many of these soldiers have now been sent to Azerbaijan.
Aftenposten, who has been in contact with one of the Syrians fighting in Azerbaijan, has through a search on the tracking site Fligthradar24 found out that there have been several flights from Tripoli to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku recently, even though there is no direct flight between the two countries.
It is unclear how many Syrian mercenaries are in Azerbaijan. The Syrian exile group SOHR believes it is at least 1500.
Both Turkey and Azerbaijan deny the use of Syrian mercenaries, claiming that it is the Armenians who carry out such activities. There are currently no messages that can confirm this. If the Armenians need soldiers, they will probably have plenty of volunteers in the Armenian diaspora, who live scattered over half the world.
Russia, which is allied with Armenia, but which for many years has sent weapons to both the warring parties, has been relatively low and tried to bring about a ceasefire. But the Russians are worried that violent Islamists may find their way back into Russia by fighting in Azerbaijan. On October 6, Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR), said that “hundreds or thousands” of “mercenaries and terrorists from the Middle East” threatened regional stability.
And the Russians probably have every reason to be worried. Many of the mercenaries now in Nagorno-Karabakh are ihuga jihadists.
Mercenaries have existed as long as there has been war in the world. In recent years, the Middle East has primarily focused on American contractor companies such as Blackwater, but now, not least, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions have led to the mercenary business taking on much more.
Mercenaries have operated in both Iraq and Syria. Iran has used Afghan Shia Muslims on the Syrian battlefield, Kurdish militias have foreigners in their ranks, including Norwegians. Now it can be claimed from the Kurdish side that many of the foreigners are fighting because they support the Kurdish cause and hate Islamists, but these soldiers are a kind of mercenaries anyway.
And Yemen uses both parties in the war mercenaries, the same applies in Somalia. In June, it also became known that Turkey and Qatar had recruited 2,000 Somalis to fight in Libya. At about the same time, there were reports that 200 Yemeni mercenaries had arrived in Libya. According to media reports, these had been transported via Turkey, under the guise that they were injured soldiers who were to receive medical treatment.
On Khalifa Haftar’s side in Libya, among others, an unknown number of Sudanese and several hundred mercenaries from the Russian company Wagnergruppa are fighting. The latter operate with the full support of President Putin.
Mercenaries are in the shot for the time being.
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