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Russia’s continuous attempts to “recruit” Syrian youth to fight in Libya alongside Haftar

Members of the Libyan "National Army" (LNA) of the retired Major General Khalifa Haftar, heading from Benghazi to Tarablus in Libya - 07 April 2019 (Reuters)

Members of the Libyan "National Army" (LNA) of the retired Major General Khalifa Haftar, heading from Benghazi to Tarablus in Libya - 07 April 2019 (Reuters)

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Enab Baladi – al-Qunaytirah

On 12 April, media activists from the Syrian south published images of buses carrying dozens of young men, “recruited” by Russia to fight in Libya alongside the retired Major General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA)/al-Wefaq.

Then, videos were published about a month after local media outlets in As-Suwayda talked about conscripting young men to fight in Libya, which sparked considerable controversy and further highlighted the Russian role in the Syrian south.

Enab Baladi followed up the case through its correspondents in the Syrian south and communicated with four sources that have knowledge relevant to the subject matter or informed of it.

Situation overview in southern Syria

Since the middle of 2018, the Syrian regime has taken control of southern Syria, only pro forma, after it re-entered, with Russian support, most of the areas that were outside its control, via making conditional reconciliation agreements and settlements with some opposition factions, and by displacing those who rejected the terms of the reconciliation.

Despite the regime’s control, Russia is the one running things on the ground in Syria’s southern region by administering former opposition fighters who remained in the south and settled their situation, and the regime’s forces, which have redeployed into the military units in the provinces of  Daraa and al-Qunaytirah.

In light of the increasing Russian intervention in the Libyan file, events indicate that Russia considers the former Syrian opposition members as an opportunity to support its allies in Libya, by recruiting young men from different regions in the countryside of Daraa and al-Qunaytirah.

How did “recruitment” of Syrian youth in Libya begin?

Enab Baladi has contacted former opposition fighters in al-Qunaytirah to identify the recruitment specifications and review the details of their agreement with the Russians. 

A former opposition fighter e-mailed Enab Baladi and informed it about how the recruitment was implemented.

The fighter, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that a person called Mohammed al-Ar, also known as Abu Jaafar Mumtaneh, helped some officers from the regime forces of Sa’ sa’ branch in Rif Dimashq province, to enlist about 350 young men from several areas in the Syrian south.

Those young men were recruited after agreeing to go to Libya to guard the oil wells there for a generous monthly salary of 1,000 US dollars (USD) for three months only.

Al-Ar pointed out that the Russian paramilitary organization “Wagner Group” paid the salaries of these young men according to the agreement. Fighters were transported by buses to Homs, specifically to the “18th Division” in the al-Furuklus area, including 75 young men from the countryside of al-Qunaytirah.

Former opposition leaders reaching out to Russia for recruitment

The issue of implicating Syrian fighters in the Libyan conflict is not limited to Russia and the regime alone, as Turkey is accused of transporting hundreds of fighters from the Syrian National Army (SNA) through its airports to Libya to join the fight alongside the “al-Wefaq” government.

Enab Baladi highlighted the Syrian fighters’ participation in the Libyan conflict through its previous report entitled “Moscow and Ankara pulling strings…Syrians on both sides of the Libyan conflict.”

Colonel Hassan Abu Muhannad, who preferred not to reveal his full name for security reasons, is a defected officer from the regime’s forces originally from the Syrian south, believes that some opposition leaders who preferred to stay in the south have started to communicate publicly with the Russians.

The dissident colonel indicated that those opposition leaders had played significant roles in emptying the Syrian south of its youth, either by displacing them or throwing them into military formations affiliated to the Syrian regime or the Russians.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, the colonel who is currently staying in Germany commented on al-Ar’s involvement by saying that the latter had a suspicious role during the early years of the revolution before the regime re-took control of the south; therefore, “he could have a connection with either the Russians or the Syrian intelligence.”

He added that Russia is now working to handle the file of southern Syria on its own completely and end Iran’s influence over the south, which means it wants to manage the region alone exclusively.

Failure of implementation

Media activist Ahmad al-Majareesh, who works for the “Horan Free League” (a former opposition faction in the Syrian south), told Enab Baladi that Russia and the regime continue their attempts to attract the former leaders of opposition factions via communicating with them and exploiting their situation, in order to include the most significant number of young men from southern Syria under their command.

As for the agreement to recruit young men, al-Majareesh said to Enab Baladi that it was not fully implemented, indicating that a group of young men who were transferred to the “18th Division” located on the road of Palmyra –  Khunayfis of rural Homs have returned.

“The young people discovered the truth behind their deployment to Libya, and that its main purpose was to fight, not to guard oil installations. Therefore, they communicated with their families in al-Qunaytirah, who, in turn, pressured al-Ar, leading to the return of some of them,” according to al-Majareesh.

Enab Baladi verified the return of the young men, by communicating with a source close to one of the returnees, who spoke on condition of anonymity for his relative’s security. 

The source said when the buses arrived in the “18th Division,” the young men were told that they should undergo military training to join the fighting in Libya, which prompted them to reject the agreement and demand a return.

Previous attempt

According to the local website “Suwayda 24,” which covers news of As-Suwayda province, Russia had a previous attempt to lure fighters from As-Suwayda into the fighting in Libya.

The website mentioned last February, the involvement of the “the Syrian National Youth Party,” which is licensed by the regime’s government, in the proxy recruitment of young men from As-Suwayda and other different provinces, supervised by “Wagner Group,” to fight in Libya.

It also published information and documents, including videos confirming that the party has started to gather mercenaries since the beginning of the current year.

The information posted by the website indicated that the party’s Branch Secretary in As-Suwayda province, Shibli al-Shaer, is the one responsible for recruiting mercenaries in As-Suwayda to send them to Libya, to support the retired Major General Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

However, the “Suwayda 24” website did not mention any details on how many fighters from regime-controlled areas were transferred to join the fight with Haftar’s forces.

 

 

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