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Turkey sends Syrian mercenaries to Niger to protect its strategic interests

Turkey sends Syrian mercenaries to Niger to protect its strategic interests

 


Hundreds of Syrian mercenaries have been sent by Turkey to Niger in recent months to protect Ankara's economic and military interests in the West African country, a rights group and experts said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has researchers across Syria, reports that the recruitment of Syrian fighters for deployment to Niger has been going on for several months.

“We have confirmed that around 1,100 Syrian fighters have already been deployed to Niger since September last year,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory.

Syrian nationals are being recruited from areas under the control of Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups in northwest Syria, Abdulrahman told VOA.

Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), a France-based advocacy group, said it had also documented such recruitment.

“These Syrian fighters are transported from Syria to Turkey, then through Turkish airports they are sent [to Niger] by Turkish military aircraft,” Bassam Alahmad, executive director of STJ, told VOA.

Turkey has in the past deployed Syrian fighters to other conflict zones, including Azerbaijan and Libya, through SADAT International Defense Consultancy, a private military company said to have close ties to the Turkish president's government. Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It is very clear that in Niger, Turkey is only extending a policy that sees Africa as an obvious growth area for Turkey in terms of commercial and military interests, and in terms of extending the Turkey's power in the world,” said Nicholas Heras, a Middle East adviser. Is an expert at the New Lines Institute, a research organization in Washington.

Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory also said that SADAT was behind the recruitment of Syrian nationals in Turkish-controlled areas.

The Istanbul-based company declined to comment. VOA also contacted the Turkish Foreign Ministry, but received no response.

A Syrian fighter, named Ahmed, told AFP this week that a Turkish-backed Syrian militia, called the Sultan Murad Division, had been involved in recruiting him for deployment to Niger.

The Syrian fighter, who was in Aleppo province, said the new recruits would be trained in camps before taking part in the fighting in Niger.

“The first two batches of fighters have already left, and a third batch will follow soon,” he said.

Another Syrian fighter told AFP he had been recruited to serve in Niger “on a six-month contract with a salary of $1,500.”

A third Syrian fighter said that after two weeks of military training, he was tasked with guarding a site near a mine in Niger, according to AFP.

Syrian fighters have cited economic incentives as the main motivation for accepting such job offers.

The Syrian Observatory said the Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries were stationed in the border area between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.

“For those who are injured in combat, they receive up to $30,000 in compensation,” Abdulrahman said. “For those killed, their families receive up to $60,000.”

The United Nations says the tri-border region has in recent years become a hotspot for insecurity, including terrorist activity by militant groups.

This comes at a time when Nigerian and US defense officials are discussing a plan to withdraw all US forces from the country. Niger's military junta, which overthrew the country's democratically elected president in July last year, has demanded an end to the US military presence in the country.

In December 2023, France also ended its military presence in Niger after a similar request was made by junta leaders.

Experts say Niger's junta recognizes the continued need for security support and is therefore increasingly relying on mercenaries deployed by Russia and Turkey.

“France and the United States were security partners who supported Nigerien forces through cooperation and agreements that did not cost Nigerien taxpayers a lot of money,” said Daniel Eizenga, a researcher at the African Center for Studies. strategies of National Defense. University of Washington. “Now, after they left, you have smaller contingents of Russian mercenaries, or these reports of Syrian mercenaries sent by Turkey.”

“You're just witnessing this very strange rhetoric around the Nigerian junta reclaiming national sovereignty, which has no legitimate claim to popular political support, and then it cedes that sovereignty to these mercenaries and spends taxpayers' money Nigerians to hire these groups, whether they are or not. be Russian or Turkish,” he told VOA.

Eizenga said the death toll linked to attacks by Islamist militant groups in Niger has increased significantly since the junta took power in July 2023, arguing that the coup plotters' interests are not aligned with Niger's national interests.

“The fact that they invite and court these mercenary groups is another example,” he said.

This story comes from VOA's Kurdish service with information from AFP.

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