Syrian Fighter to Asharq Al-Awsat: Yes, I am a Mercenary and I Fought in Libya
“Yes, I am a mercenary in every meaning of the world. Whoever says otherwise is lying to himself.” This is how a prominent military official, who fought among the ranks of Syrian fighters in Libya, chose to describe himself.
A native of the Aleppo countryside in northwestern Syria, he identified himself as A.M. He recalled how he was just a regular vegetable vendor when the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. When the unrest spread to his hometown in late 2012, he joined a military faction of the Free Syrian Army and fought against regime forces in several battles in Idlib and Aleppo cities and their countrysides.
When the fighting stopped, so did the fighters’ income. “A fighter earned only 100 Turkish liras. We lived in poverty and could barely afford food,” he said. A telephone call in February, however, would change his life. His close friend revealed to him that registration was open for fighting in Libya. A.M. promptly headed to Syria’s Afrin, had his personal details registered and was transferred within days, earning a salary of 2,000 dollars.
A.M., who is in his 40s, was among the first batch of Syrian fighters who were transported to Libya. They initially amounted to 150 and were overseen by the Turkish military. They were transferred by land from Afrin to Turkey’s Gaziantep and then by air to Istanbul airport where they boarded a Libyan Airlines plane and were flown to Misrata city, which is held by the Government of National Accord.
There, the Syrians were transferred to the frontlines, but kept separate from the pro-GNA forces. A.M. said that he fought for a month before being promoted. He was asked to recruit more Syrians. He returned to Syria about a month ago and began promoting fighting in Libya. Throughout his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, he kept on receiving messages via WhatsApp from Syrians wanting to fight.
“Every week, two flights, carrying 60 fighters each, travel to Libya,” he revealed, saying that most of the fighters have past battle experience. “The door for recruitment is open.”
A regular fighter earns a salary of 2,000 dollars, while the commander of a unit earns 4,000 dollars. Rising up the ranks, fighters can get paid as much as 30,000 dollars. The families of those killed in battle receive 60,000 dollars in compensation.
“These are unofficial numbers as there are no contracts to verify them,” said A.M. “The fighter has to assume responsibility for his decision and everyone knows that he is a mercenary and will be drafted to proxy wars.”
Some 100 Syrian mercenaries have been captured by the Libyan National Army, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, that is fighting the GNA. Some 300 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.
Asharq Al-Awsat contacted through WhatsApp the relatives of fighters who were killed in Libya. The majority hail from the provinces of Idlib and Homs and Ghouta near Damascus.
S.H. is a widow of mercenary who was killed in Libya some two weeks ago. All that remains of his memory is a family photo that she shot before he traveled. He left behind three children.
The widow, in her 30s, recalled how three months ago her husband, 37, telephoned her late at night to inform her that he was traveling to Libya to fight. He had picked up arms during the beginning of the Syrian conflict and remained a fighter until his death.
She struggled with her anger as she recalled the telephone call that informed her of his death: “I told him don’t go. We have children who deserve to live a dignified life. Leave this dirty war.”