Libya's LNA says captured fighter doesn't 'represent' Kurds after Peshmerga rejects affiliation

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Libyan National Army (LNA) on Wednesday said that a man their forces had captured while he was fighting alongside pro-Turkish militants in Libya did not "represent" Kurds. The LNA appeared to be retracting a previous claim that the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga trained the combatant.

Libya has been plagued by civil war since the 2011 uprisings that spread across North African and Middle Eastern nations, ultimately leading to the fall of multiple regimes. A NATO campaign against then-Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi toppled his government and incapacitated his army.

In a protracted and convoluted conflict that in many ways parallels the one in Syria that began in similar circumstances, various armed groups dominate the Libyan battlefield. At the same time, foreign governments provide support for either of the two main sides going head to head in a lengthy stand-off that has further impoverished the war-torn nation.

Led by veteran military commander Khalifa Haftar, the LNA controls the less economically developed eastern and southern parts of Libya. It is now leading a prolonged advance on Tripoli, the capital and base of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Turkey is involved on both fronts. In Syria, it has been arming and training militant groups that are widely alleged to have carried out numerous war crimes in northern parts of the country—primarily against Kurdish civilians—since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. In early 2020, Ankara began sending arms and members of its Syrian proxies to back GNA in the fight against Haftar's forces.

The LNA has captured multiple Turkish-deployed Syrian mercenaries.

The Captive

In a press briefing on Sunday, LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari announced the capture of a Kurdish militant among Turkish-backed groups that were fighting alongside GNA troops, identifying him as 35-year-old Shakir Farman Salih Bonjiq Herfiki, a "dangerous terrorist."

Mismari claimed that Herfiki previously trained in Erbil with the Syrian Kurdish Roj Peshmerga, a Kurdistan Region-based force founded in 2016 with support of the leading Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to join in the battle against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq.

The Roj Peshmerga—also known as the Roj Division or the Rojava Peshmerga—were primarily recruited from Syrian Kurdish communities displaced by the civil unrest in their home country that has led to the death of over 500,000 people and the flight of millions. Rojava is the term Kurds use to refer to Syrian Kurdistan, or Kurdish-majority areas in the north of the country. 

Since their inception, the Roj Peshmerga have had periodic disputes with other Syrian Kurdish forces such as the People's Protection Units (YPG) and has no current presence within Syria.

The LNA official claimed that Herfiki had also been trained by the Grey Wolves, a Turkish far-right paramilitary group, as well as Turkish intelligence in order to fight the YPG and its Kurdistan Region-based affiliate, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

'No Affiliation'

A statement from the Roj Peshmerga Command on Monday rejected any affiliation with Herfiki, claiming that pro-PKK media had amplified the reports to "tarnish the name and standing of Roj Peshmerga." The group itself also denied any working relationship with him, stating, "This person was never a Peshmerga in the Roj Division and has had no connection to our forces."

The Roj Peshmerga's command center claimed that Herfiki fled from Syria in 2012 as the civil war was gaining momentum, explaining, "He turned to the Kurdistan Region as a refugee and later moved to and settled in Turkey without returning."

"As a Kurdistani force, we were founded to protect the sacred land and nation of Kurdistan against any enemy or terrorists," continued the statement. The group, in fact, did participate in a number of battles against the Islamic State in Iraq.

"We have particular respect for the Libyan nation, and we condemn the low efforts of people who want to tie our name to some groups," it added.

In its statement on the issue, the KDP also rejected media reports that alleged any relation between the pro-Turkish fighter and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

LNA Update

In a social media post on Tuesday, the LNA appeared to retract its earlier claim about Herfiki's association with Peshmerga forces, calling the April 14 statement that outlined the allegations "fake."

On Wednesday, LNA spokesperson Mismari spoke about Herfiki again at another press conference, saying he "belongs to a nation that suffers from Turkish injustice, suffers from Turkish persecution and fights for freedom, and it is its right to fight."

"This does not represent the (Kurdish) people, and the terrorist represents only himself," the official said. "Even in my tribe in Libya, there are terrorists… but they represent only themselves, their fellow fighters, or those who pushed them towards this battle."

Avoiding any claims of affiliation to organized Kurdish groups or parties, he specified only that Herkifi is of Kurdish ethnicity.


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