Turkey considers forming paramilitary firm like American Blackwater and Russian Wagner to send fighters abroad

Levent Kenez

 

Turkey must establish a private military company to assist and train foreign soldiers, said the chief military aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who announced several times this month that thanks to a military deal Turkey signed with Libya’s UN-supported government on November 27, 2019, Turkey could send private contractors to Libya as the Russians allegedly did with the Wagner Group.

Chief military advisor and retired Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi, who already owns controversial private military contractor SADAT, which many believe is a de facto paramilitary force loyal to Erdoğan, supported the idea of establishing a mercenary company that operates abroad, elaborating in an interview with a media outlet on how such a private army would be formed. 

“Absolutely, Turkey needs a private company like Blackwater or Wagner,” Tanrıverdi said, indicating that it would be a new tool in Turkey’s foreign policy.

Tanrıverdi claimed that Turkey could send troops abroad through that private company, bypassing any kind of international mechanism given the fact that no accord is needed.

Adnan Tanrıverdi

 Erdoğan’s chief military adviser believes that the combat power of the proposed private army would be significant since it would consist of experienced retired soldiers, provided that it is successfully commanded. According to Tanrıverdi, materiel and weapons would be provided by the Turkish army.

Tanrıverdi likened sending mercenaries abroad to exports, something also good for the economy, rather than deploying troops and officers from the Turkish army.

Turkish lawmaker and former Ambassador to Italy Aydın Adnan Sezgin claimed in parliament on December 21, 2019 during a debate over a Turkish-Libyan defense pact that the articles of the agreement were designed to bypass the legislature in sending troops abroad. Sezgin said the agreement equivocates by use of the words “security and defense organizations” and “civilians from security organizations” in an effort to clear the way for SADAT. Sezgin also accused the Erdoğan government of looking for ways to transfer jihadists in Syria’s Idlib region to Libya.

Another Turkish lawmaker and former ambassador to the OECD, Ahmet Ahmet Kamil Erozan, who spoke at the same parliamentary session, pointed out that the agreement’s Turkish version differs from the Arabic and English versions in that only the Turkish text includes “civilians from security organizations”; however, it was indicated that in the event of a disagreement, the English text shall govern.

 

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Meanwhile, Erdoğan’s hidden coalition partner, the ultranationalist, pro-Russian Homeland Party (Vatan Partisi, or VP) welcomed the idea of creating a mercenary company for the reason that it could wage a proxy war against NATO allies, something that would be impossible with the Turkish military.

İsmail Hakkı Pekin, a former intelligence chief at the General Staff and a close ally of Doğu Perinçek, chairman of the VP, thinks there are many retired military personnel including some from Turkey’s Special Forces Command who would join this private army, claiming that there would be willing to fight for money among Turkey’s 82-million-strong population.

İsmail Hakkı Pekin

Pekin unwittingly revealed that Turkish authorities discussed creating a private paramilitary unit that would gather intelligence, negotiate with adversaries and kidnap or silence critics in Syria on behalf of the Turkish intelligence agencies when the civil war broke out in 2011.

Interestingly, in 2013 a leaked audio clip whose authenticity was confirmed  by a Turkish court revealed that top-ranking Turkish officials were heard discussing the possibility of an intervention in Syria in a false flag operation conducted by Turkish intelligence agency MİT.

Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan said in the recording: “If needed, I would dispatch four men to Syria. [Then] I would have them fire eight mortar shells at the Turkish side and create an excuse for war.”

Turkey is currently running  a controversial private army, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Syrian National Army, which consists of fighters and ex-officers allegedly from Syria. Which government agency is financing these proxy fighters is not yet known. Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar told deputies during budget discussions that his ministry does not pay the salaries of the fighters. Nor does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Experts claim that the extraordinary increase in the MİT budget in recent years means that Turkey is supporting the FSA with untraceable funds.

President Erdoğan also has some $2 billion in discretionary funds at his disposal in 2020 “for state necessities that contain discreet intelligence and defense services; national security and the higher interests of the state; political, social and cultural purposes; and extraordinary services,” thanks to a regulation enacted in 2018.

It would not be wrong to surmise that establishing a private army which would fight overseas would offer new business opportunities for Erdoğan’s family and inner circle, given the fact that Erdoğan assumed control of all government agencies involved in the production, development and procurement of arms and materiel.

A company owned by Selçuk Bayraktar, one of his two sons-in-law, has been manufacturing military drones and enjoying lucrative military tenders. Bayraktar’s drones have already been used by Turkish-backed Libyan forces.

Military vehicle maker BMC, seized by the government in 2013, was sold at a highly discounted price to businessman Ethem Sancak, who had openly declared his love for Erdoğan, while the company’s debts were paid by Turkish taxpayers. Moreover, a tank tread company belonging to the Turkish military was also transferred to BMC for 25 years by the Turkish president in January 2019. 

Erdoğan’s other son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, is Turkey’s treasury and finance minister. In 2016 WikiLeaks revealed thousand of emails from Albayrak, proving his connection to oil smuggling from Iraq into Turkey, including Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) oil.

Erdoğan’s elder son Burak is a businessman who owns a large number of freighters in partnership with Erdoğan’s brother-in-law, Ziya İlgen.

Erdoğan’s younger son Bilal is involved with educational and NGO activities, promoting Islamist ideology to the younger generations through youth organizations controlled by the family. The private army would have no difficulty in recruiting youngsters from these organizations.

It is no secret that the Erdogan government aids and abets armed groups in countries other than Syria. It was revealed in 2014 that Turkish flag carrier Turkish Airlines transported weapons and arms for Boko Haram militants in Nigeria.

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