Turkey widens military footprint abroad as it is seen deploying Syrian mercenaries to Niger |



Like hundreds of other pro-Turkish fighters, Omar left northern Syria for mineral-rich Niger last year, joining Syrian mercenaries sent to the West African nation by a private Turkish military company.

“The main reason I left is because life is hard in Syria,” fighter Omar, 24, told AFP on message app WhatsApp from Niger.

In northern Syria “there are no job opportunities besides joining an armed faction and earning no more than 1,500 Turkish lira ($46) a month,” Omar said, requesting like others interviewed to be identified by a pseudonym for security reasons.

Analysts say Ankara has strong ties with the new military regime in Niamey, in power since a July 2023 coup.

And in recent months, at least 1,000 fighters have been sent to Niger “to protect Turkish projects and interests,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

For the past decade, Turkey has been increasing its footprint in Niger, mostly through “humanitarian aid, development and commerce”, said Gabriella Korling, a researcher focusing on the Sahel at the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

“The defence component of the relation between Niger and Turkey has become more important over time with the signing of a military cooperation agreement in 2020 and the sale of armed drones,” Korling said.

Niamey often refers to Turkey, Russia and China as “partners that are respectful of Niger’s sovereignty”, she added.

Omar, who supports his mother and three siblings, said since leaving his home in August he receives a “very good” monthly salary of $1,500 for his work in the West African nation.

He hopes his earnings will help him start a small business and quit the battlefield, after years working as a fighter for a pro-Ankara faction.

Omar said he was among a first batch of more than 200 fighters who left Syria’s Turkish-controlled north in August for Niger.

He is now readying to return home after his six-month contract, renewed once, ended.

He and two other pro-Ankara Syrian fighters said they had enlisted for work in Niger with the Sultan Murad faction, one of Turkey’s most loyal proxies in northern Syria.

They said they had signed six-month contracts at the faction’s headquarters with Turkish-government linked private firm SADAT International Defence Consultancy.

“SADAT officers came into the room and we signed the contract with them,” said fighter Ahmed.

“They handle everything,” from travel to accommodation, added the 30-year-old, who was readying to travel from northern Syria to Niger.

The company is widely seen as Ankara’s secret weapon in wars across North Africa and the Middle East, although its chief denied the allegation in a 2021 press interview.

Niger borders oil-rich Libya, and in 2020, Washington accused SADAT of sending Syrian fighters to Libya.

Turkey has sent thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya to buttress the Tripoli government, which it backs against rival Russian-backed authorities in the east according to the Observatory and the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre.

The Centre said SADAT was “responsible for the international air transport of mercenaries once they crossed into Turkish territory” to go to Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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