In an exclusive report The Guardian reports that a total of 2,000 Syrian fighters have travelled from Turkey or will arrive imminently to fight on the battlefields of Libya, Syrian sources in all three countries have said.
The deployment came after Turkey agreed last month to come to the aid of the Libyan prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, who is backed by the UN, in the face of a months-long campaign by his rival, the warlord Khalifa Haftar.
An initial deployment of 300 men from the second division of the Syrian National Army (SNA), an umbrella of Syrian rebel groups funded by Turkey, left Syria through the Hawar Kilis military border crossing on 24 December, followed by 350 more on 29 December.
They were then flown to Tripoli, the Libyan capital, where they have been posted to frontline positions in the east of the city.
Another 1,350 men crossed into Turkey on 5 January. Some have since been deployed to Libya with others still undergoing training at camps in southern Turkey. More men from the Islamist Sham Legion are also considering travelling to Libya.
The figures are significantly higher than most previous estimates.
The fighters have signed six-month contracts directly with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), rather than with the Turkish military, SNA sources said, for $2,000 (£1,500) a month – a vast sum compared with the 450-550 Turkish lira (£52-£72) a month they earn in Syria. All have been promised Turkish nationality, a carrot Ankara has used to cajole fighters in brigades on its payroll for several years.
Turkey is also paying medical bills for injured soldiers and is responsible for repatriating the dead to Syria. At least four Syrians have died in Libya already, the Guardian can confirm, although their units said they died while stationed on front lines against Kurdish-led forces in north-east Syria.
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