How Syrian Rebels Turned Mercenaries Guard Africa’s Gold Mines For Turkey

According to multiple sources, Syrian rebels, mainly affiliated with the Syrian National Army, have been recruited as mercenaries to provide security at factories and gold mines in African nations, reportedly under the direction of Turkey.

How Syrian Rebels Turned Mercenaries Guard Africa’s Gold Mines For Turkey 1

Several opposition sources informed Middle East Eye this week that Syrian rebels had been hired to fight and provide security at factories and gold mining in African nations.

Syrian fighters told MEE that hundreds of fighters were stationed in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria. The fighters are primarily associated with the Syrian National Army (SNA), a coalition of armed opposition groups that collaborates closely with Turkey in northern Syria.

There, they serve as security for Turkish-run companies, mines, and factories, or they offer protection services in nations where the Islamic State organization threatens regional stability.

MEE was informed by an SNA fighter going by the alias Deyri that the trainees weren’t working alone but rather in groups for a mission in Africa.

“The command is not in Syrian hands. Sometimes we sign up for the protection of Turkish businesses, sometimes for fighting the Islamic State, and sometimes for guarding mines or factories,” he said.

The Western media was the first to report on the deployment of Syrian rebels to Africa, claiming that they had received brief combat training before their assignment. The organization that provided the recruits with training was unknown to MEE.

SNA members informed the media that they signed contracts ranging from six months to a year for a monthly salary of $1,500 and were recruited through the Sultan Murad Brigade faction.

SADAT, a contentious private Turkish military company, is purportedly responsible for recruiting SNA members for Africa. Executives of the business, however, routinely refute these accusations.

For a long time, Turkish opposition parties have maintained that SADAT, which is headed by a former presidential adviser, operated as a private military firm and was involved in covert Turkish state activities throughout the Middle East.

SADAT has always refuted these claims and demanded evidence. The business claims to be openly working with states in the area on a purely consultative and training basis.

The rebel, Deyri, stated that he was unable to verify the claims made about SADAT’s involvement. “I signed with Sultan Murat, but I’ve heard their name before,” he remarked.

At least 500 Syrian fighters were sent to Africa

According to rebel reports, at least 500 men were part of the first group to be deployed in February; many of them remained in Niger, while others departed for Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Last year, the West African nations bought Turkish drones intended for military use.

It is thought that the rebels started recruiting in October.

Speaking to MEE under the alias Mahmut, another SNA member who is presently in Niger stated that he had been given a protection mission but withheld any additional information.

Mahmut and Deyri both claimed to be members of distinct SNA factions, but they signed their contracts with the Sultan Murad Brigade—a Turkish-backed Turkmen unit.

The rebels provided various accounts regarding the number of SNA factions and deployed fighters.

They did, however, affirm that the three African nations have received fighters and some commanders from at least five SNA factions.

To support a Tripoli-based government embroiled in a civil war, Turkey has already sent Syrian militants to Libya. It has also provided them to Azerbaijan during its confrontation with Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The repulsion of eastern leader Khalifa Haftar’s forces from capturing Tripoli in 2020 is thought to have been made possible by Ankara’s employment of armed drones, Syrian forces, and Turkish commanders. In 2023, Azerbaijan successfully conquered Nagorno-Karabakh using similar strategies.

Although Ankara had intended to send Syrian opposition fighters to Libya to oppose Haftar’s forces, sources informed MEE in December 2019 that Ankara had publicly rejected sending foreign forces to such theaters.

‘The only job sector is being a mercenary” 

Senior Syrian rebel commanders told MEE that opposition armed organizations have long been divided over Turkey’s recruitment of SNA members for work in Africa.

“We have a special alliance and brotherhood with Turkey. However, this relationship has been exploited by some greedy commanders over time,” he said.

“Many groups that maintain their revolutionary essence [against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] and deep brotherhood and alliance with Turkey have not sent fighters to Libya, Azerbaijan, or any other country. The problem is that the entire SNA is being labeled as mercenaries due to the ambitions of a few commanders.”

According to a second SNA commander, soldiers are being forced to work as mercenaries abroad to make ends meet because of the ongoing conflict, which has left 90% of the Syrian population unemployed and impoverished.

The commander spent many years serving in the Free Syrian Army, a broad coalition of opposition groups formed at the start of the conflict in 2011. After losing fights against the Nusra Front, a former affiliate of al-Qaeda that is now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the commander withdrew to areas under Turkish control.

He alluded to UN Security Council actions that have jeopardized relief efforts and said that Russian and Chinese pressure have hampered assistance flow to rebel-held areas of northern Syria. As of 2024, the World Food Programme’s mission for the nation has come to an end.

“Today, an SNA fighter tries to support his family with a salary of 1,500 Turkish lira [$47], of which half is taken by commanders as kickback,” the second commander said.

“From Afrin to Hasakah, from Damascus to Abu Kamal, the only job sector needing manpower nationwide is being a mercenary.” 

Rebel deployments overseas, according to a lawyer in northern Syria under the control of the opposition Syrian Interim Government, pit revolutionaries against mercenaries.

“Commanders who establish their small empires and move away from the revolution are those who gain power and wealth from missions abroad,” he said.

“They stopped following the rules. They thought their crimes would be overlooked. And they were right. Referring to the recorded human rights violations in the SNA-controlled areas of northern Syria, he continued, “Turkey ignored the crimes committed.”

The attorney also feels that the purpose of the Syrian revolution is negatively impacted by mercenary operations.

“The missions outside Syria weaken the political representation of the Syrian opposition as well as its legitimacy in the public eye.”

Last year, GreatGameIndia reported that the Syrian Arab Republic proposed an initiative to address the longstanding justice gap in international law by suggesting the creation of a global tribunal for chemical weapons.

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