New Report Says 5,000 Turkish-Backed Syrian Rebels Deployed to Libya
According to a Janes report from early September approximately 5,000 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have been deployed to Libya to support the Government of National Accord (GNA).
The report quotes sources from the US Africa Command and the US Office of the Inspector General. The same sources reveal that dozens of military advisors of the Turkish company SADAT are also in Libya, training the Syrian fighters and monitoring the day-to-day operations of Turkish-affiliated militias.
Rumors around SADAT have started circulating shortly after the publication of the report, and some recent comments of the company’s President Adnan Tanriverdi for the Daily Telegraph did not provide any further clarity. We shall now have a brief look into the company that according to many commentators could be the Turkish counterpart to the Russian Wagner Group on the Libyan front.
Who is Adnan Tanriverdi?
Adnan Tanriverdi is the founder and current President of SADAT Board of Directors. A former General in the Turkish Armed Forces, Tanriverdi was discharged back in 1996 allegedly due to concerns around his strong religious beliefs.
Tanriverdi became widely known to the public in August 2016, when President Recep Erdogan chose him as his new military advisor. The appointment came shortly after the failed coup attempt against the Turkish President; this move indicated Erdogan’s intention to establish a network of supporters and allies in key positions of the country’s administration in order to cement his position in the long-term and diminish any internal threats that might lead to another regime change attempt.
Further to his SADAT Presidency, Tanriverdi was also appointed President of the Turkish-based NGO Association of Justice Defenders back in 2004,, a Group Member of the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World.
What is the SADAT International Defense Consultancy?
SADAT is a private registered company, providing Security and Military Training and Consultancy Services. It was founded in 2012 by Tanriverdi who has also been serving as President since then. The personnel is exclusively composed of Army Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the Turkish Armed Forces from all ranks, with many having a Special Forces background. As clearly stated the company is not providing services to individuals; SADAT is working entirely with branches of the Turkish government and possibly with fellow Muslim governments which hold friendly ties with Ankara.
The company’s Vision and Mission is to “reorganize or modernize the Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces of Islamic Countries in a modern and effective sense to ensure National Defense and Internal Security.” Inspired by the concept of Private Military and Defense Companies, which has thrived in Western Countries over the past decades, Tanriverdi came up with a plan to establish a Turkish Private Military Company that would fit in an anti-Western religious and political context.
The ex-military personnel, which should be estimated at approximately a hundred individuals directly employed by SADAT, is reportedly utilizing its broad experience in the Turkish Armed Forces to deliver services ranging from urban warfare operations training to training courses for helicopter pilots.
A Counterweight to the Wagner Group?
Even though SADAT has been presented by mainstream media, as the Turkish equivalent to the Russian Wagner Group, there are some critical differences. Wagner has managed to establish its presence out of nothing. The term Wagner today refers to any Russian-affiliated foreign fighter operating abroad. There is no official record about Wagner, its activity is not advertised online or through other means and there is no company registered under that name either in Russia or abroad.
The “Wagner Group” is a ghost entity pushing Kremlin’s interests overseas, and since it doesn’t officially exist, the Russian President and his administration can’t be held accountable for the activity of the Group under any circumstances.
On the other hand, SADAT does officially exist and there is nothing secret about its presence and area of operations. Headquartered in Istanbul and under Tanrverdi’s leadership the company does not seem to be keeping anything covert about its very existence. The company is publicly advertising its activity through its website and the press. There is a precise organizational chart and an approximate estimation on the number of personnel acting as consultants and advisors.
In this respect there is no point comparing the ambiguous and shadowy Wagner group to the commercial entity registered in the issue 8015 of “Turkish Trade Registry Gazette” and doing business under the name “SADAT International Defense Consulting Construction Industry and Trade Inc.”
Evaluating Claims of SADAT in Libya
Until now there have been many claims that SADAT has a presence in Libya, and the latest AFRICOM report comes to further strengthen these assumptions. Tanriverdi for his part has repeatedly rejected these claims. The most probable scenario is that SADAT personnel could be actively involved in the Libyan front, however no traceable connection between the company and operators deployed to Libya should be expected.
The fact that SADAT is gaining international attention could also prove to be a very useful tool for massive recruitment if played right by the Turkish authorities. In the case of Wagner we have seen that the wide media coverage urged hundreds of Syrians to rush to sign up with Wagner for a deployment in Libya.
We should not expect by no means an open recruitment process for fighters willing to fight in Libya or Syria on behalf of the company; however the public talk around SADAT could prompt several individuals to become involved in one of the Turkish fronts abroad, with the company acting strictly as an initial point of contact, if there is any involvement in the whole process at all.
In the case of Wagner, President Vladimir Putin, a mastermind in psychological operations and political manipulation, undoubtedly managed to turn the whole Wagner story to his advantage. We only need to stand by and see if Ankara could exploit the noise around SADAT in a similar way at this particular moment.