Turkey continues to strengthen its presence in Libya, and not only by sending troops of mercenaries. In early May - although it is now known - at least six Turkish military aircraft travelled from Turkey to South Africa with a small amount of medical supplies. However, the purpose of this flight was to pick up military equipment purchased from the defence industry supplier Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM), according to the Daily Maverick (DM).
Analyst Shannon Ebrahim said to Ahval News that "South Africa must stop shipments of arms that are later sold to countries at war", referring to shipments of ammunition to Turkey, which has maintained a presence in Syria and Libya, despite the UN's call to reduce hostilities in the face of the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The measures taken to reduce the impact of COVID-19 only allow for the transportation of essential items such as medical supplies and South Africans stranded abroad across borders. It is disconcerting how six Turkish military cargo planes were allowed to enter the country and return to their region full of military supplies supplied by Rheinmetall Denel Munitions," he said.
South Africa's arms trade regulator, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks. "The devastating humanitarian crisis that emerged in the wake of Turkey's military aggression should have been reason enough for the NCACC to block any military sales of Rheinmetall Denel ammunition to Turkey. However, the company has been authorised to sell arms to Turkey for the past two years," Ebrahim told the daily Ahval News.
In recent months, military escalation in Libya has become a constant following the agreement signed last November between Turkey and the Tripoli-based National Accord Government (NAG) led by Fayez Sarraj. Within the framework of this security and economic cooperation agreement, the Erdogan government has been plunged into a war against the militias of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and has violated the arms embargo established by the United Nations.
"Turkey's medical donations come at a time when Turkey's international prestige is very low and the attitude of various publics around the world towards Turkey is also very negative," Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund's think tank, told the Financial Times. The Independent Online has published an article entitled "Turkey and South Africa lead regional efforts to tackle coronavirus", in which the Turkish ambassador in Pretoria has defended the arms trade with South Africa. Furthermore, instead of explaining why Turkey sent six military aircraft to South Africa, she accused South African journalists of conducting a propaganda campaign against the Turkish military plane that landed in Cape Town.
A new contingent of mercenaries arrives to Turkey
The international escalation of the conflict in Libya is increasingly critical. While the internationally recognized government in the country has announced the seizure of a major airbase southwest of the capital, the regime led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues with its strategy and sends a new contingent of at least 120 Syrian mercenaries to training camps located in southern Turkey. The upsurge in attacks in Libya has led Ankara to increase its presence in the country to ensure its support for the Tripoli-based National Accord Government (NAG) led by Fayez Sarraj.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has explained that these mercenaries are said to have arrived in the Eurasian nation after leaving the Afrin area in Syria. Once the necessary training is completed, the Syrian fighters will be sent to fight in the North African country, according to the London-based organization and a network of informants on Syrian soil.
Libya has been a fragmented country since 2014. Since then, this nation has been divided between the areas controlled by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, on the one hand, and the territory controlled by the authorities in the east, loyal to the Haftar militias, who in April 2019 launched an offensive to take control of the country's capital, Tripoli, on the other. The Libyan National Army is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while Sarraj is backed by Turkey and Qatar. As a result, the number of recruits who have arrived in Libya in recent months has increased to 8,950 mercenaries, including a group of non-Syrian mercenaries, while some 3,420 are in Turkey on training courses.
The SOHR has warned that "some 150 young men between the ages of 16 and 18 have been recruited to fight in Libya, most of whom belong to the Al-Sultan Murad Division". The same agency has also documented the deaths of 11 "Turkish-supported mercenaries", including one under 18. According to this data, the total number of Ankara-backed mercenaries who have died in military operations in Libya amounts to 298, including 17 young minors.
The victims, according to the observatory, belonged to the factions al-Mu'tasim Division, Sultan Murad, Suqur Al-Shamal Brigade, Al-Hamzat and Suleiman Shah. The fighters lost their lives in the fighting in the south of Tripoli, as well as at Tripoli airport, the Al-Hadabah project area, Misrata and other areas of the country. In recent weeks, increased tensions between Turkish mercenaries and the commanders of pro-GNA militias had led hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to leave their ranks, claiming that they disagreed with the faction's involvement in the Libyan war.