Egypt has reportedly sent 150 soldiers to fight alongside Bashar al-Assad‘s regime in a planned operation against against rebel forces in northwestern Syria.
Turkey’s Anadolu news agency on Thursday quoted “reliable military sources” claiming that the soldiers have been sent to Aleppo and Idlib provinces, in coordination with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),
Iran has been a key backer of the Syrian regime since an uprising against Assad’s rule started in March 2011, sending client militias from around the world such as the Afghan Fatemiyoun and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Saraqeb was captured by the regime in late 2019 and is on the frontline between regime and rebel forces.
The Syrian news agency Shahed also reported a Syrian opposition military source as saying that “Egyptian mercenaries had arrived to fight alongside regime forces and sectarian militias in northern Syria”.
The agency said it expects more Egyptian troops to arrive to Syria but added that the foreign contingent is operating separately from Syrian regime forces and are not involved in bombing operations.
The head of Egypt’s House of Representatives’ Defence and National Security Committee, Major General Kamal Amer, has denied that Egyptian forces have been deployed to Syria.
Speaking to Erem News, Amer said that the last mandate to deploy Egyptian troops abroad was for Libya. The Defence Committe’s deputy head, also dismissed the reports as “baseless rumors”.
However, a Syrian opposition commander, Brigadier Fateh Hassoun, told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that the arrival of Egyptian forces to Syria was linked to Turkey and Egypt’s proxy conflict in Libya.
Turkey has provided critical support to the internationally-recognised Libyan Government of National Accord, while Egypt – along with Russia and the UAE – have backed rogue warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Both Turkey and Russia have sent Syrian fighters to Libya to fight on opposing sides.
“The Libyan issue is a high priority issue for Egypt, and it seems that Syria is now a space for exchanging messages,” Hassoun said.
The Turkish government has backed Syrian rebels in their insurgency against the Assad regime.
“The presence of Egyptian soldiers in Khan Al-Asal and Saraqeb is an Egyptian message to Turkey that the Turkish presence near the Egyptian border [with Libya] in support of forces Egypt is hostile and will be met with an Egyptian military presence near the Turkish border,” Hassoun added.
Hassoun also claimed that the regime has been using the services of Egyptian military experts “for a long time”, following a Russian request.
In November 2016, the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported that Egypt had sent a group of pilots to fight for the Syrian regime, although this was emphatically denied by Cairo at the time.