Loyalty to those who pay more.. Who are the mercenaries?

Photo of soldier aiming at a target

Photo of soldier aiming at a target


Enab Baladi – Murad Abdul Jalil

The term “mercenaries” prevailed in Syria during the past years of the conflict, as a result of mutual accusations between the warring parties of recruiting fighters from other countries, especially the Syrian regime, which focused on propagandizing the image of foreign fighters joining the factions and formations fighting against it. Meanwhile, international human rights organizations issued reports to confirm the presence of mercenaries recruited by Iran and Russia in Syria to fight alongside the regime forces.

During the past weeks, videos of Syrian soldiers fighting alongside the forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya have been circulated, and media reports have spoken of transporting hundreds of Syrian fighters from Aleppo countryside to Libya via Turkey.

The internationally recognized GNA denied the presence of Syrian soldiers fighting under its command. In an interview conducted by Enab Baladi with the GNA’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Muhammad al-Qiblawi, on December 29, 2019, he said that the Libyan Ministry of Defense does not need foreign fighters to join the army ranks.

The Syrian Ministry of Defense in the Syrian Interim Government also denied sending fighters to Libya, while Turkey has not officially commented on the allegations.

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted four high-ranking Turkish sources saying that there is an intention to send Syrian fighters to Libya.

With the absence of confirmations that Syrian fighters are officially sent to Libya, amid widespread public disapproval in Syria, questions are raised about the proper description of these fighters, in case they were actually sent to Libya, the party behind sending them and the sanctions that can affect them.

Mercenaries.. Loyalty to those who pay more

According to the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, issued by the United Nations in December 1989, a mercenary is “any person recruited specifically, domestically or abroad, to fight in an armed conflict, and his primary motivation for participating in hostilities is the desire to achieve personal gains through rewards offered to him by a party to the conflict.”

The Convention also referred to the mercenary as an individual, who is not a party to the conflict or a member of the armed forces of the two warring parties, and is not sent in an official mission by a state which is not a party to the conflict, in addition to the fact that he is motivated by gaining profits out of his participation in the conflict, and “overthrowing a government or undermining the constitutional order of a country in a different way.”

In short, the definitions mentioned in the Convention, which includes 21 articles, state that mercenaries are individuals recruited by one country to fight in another state with the aim of achieving political gains.

Bassam al-Ahmad, Director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), considered that the Syrian fighters, who go to fight in Libya, are “mercenaries,” and wondered about the motivation behind any Syrian citizen’s intention to fight in Libya within the ranks of the Turkish army, except for obtaining financial gains.

Al-Ahmad told Enab Baladi that states have become dependent on mercenaries, in addition to their soldiers, to fight within the ranks of their armies, in another country for political gain, as losing army soldiers on the battlefield affects negatively public opinion and elections.

There are many reasons that can motivate combatants to fight within the ranks of a country’s army in a land other than their own, including financial rewards, amounting to hundreds of dollars, especially in light of the economic deterioration experienced by the country to which the fighter belongs. All this makes him very keen to be affiliated with the ones who pay more and promise to grant the mercenary the nationality of the country he is fighting for, when returning from the combat.

When did dependence on mercenaries begin?

The term mercenary is not recent, as the phenomenon of recruiting mercenaries has occurred in countries and empires, such as the Egyptian or British empires, over the past centuries. The fighters’ ultimate goal was to make material gains, asserted researcher Basil Yusef al-Nayrab in his book: Mercenaries: Armies of the Shadow.

Al-Nayrab discussed in his book, published in 2008, the growing phenomenon of recruiting mercenaries in conflict zones, either “in order to preserve the lives of army soldiers, or because army members are not able to take control and contain the war zones. Thus, even when the mercenary is killed, aggressed in the streets and burned or captivated, no one will be there to mourn him, collect his remains or even negotiate the terms of his release.

Today, however, private (non-governmental) military and security companies, which recruit fighters and send them to fight in other countries, have spread, such as the US based Blackwater Security Company that fought in Iraq.

Mercenaries in Syria

Syria witnessed the arrival of Russian mercenaries through the Wagner Group, a private military company that recruits and trains Russian mercenaries, and then sends them to fight in war zones. The company is similar to an armed formation, as it performs the tasks of an army; however, it is organized and funded by individuals and not states.

The Russian newspaper RBC Daily estimated the expenditures of Russia on the participation of mercenaries in operations in Syria at more than $ 150 million, until the date of the publication of the article in September 2016.

Wages of the Wagner Group personnel start from about $ 1,500 during training at the Molkino Base in southern Russia, and amount to $5,000 while participating in operations in Syria, according to the newspaper.

Iran has also recruited tens of thousands of fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon to support the Syrian regime.

Iran took advantage of the fragile legal status of its Afghan refugees, who are estimated at about 2.5 million, and recruited 14-year-old children to fight in Syria, while offering them incentives and had promised to grant the Iranian citizenship to their families if they died, were injured or captured during their military missions, reported Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Ambiguous mercenary laws

Despite international warnings to states not to recruit mercenary fighters and use them to violate human rights and to commit massacres and crimes, the laws governing this phenomenon are still unclear and largely depend on the existing international political scene, as no mercenary has been tried publicly and clearly by international courts to date.

The International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries indicated that “the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries should be considered crimes that constitute a serious concern to all States, and that any person committing any of these crimes should either be prosecuted or extradited.”

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