Editor’s note: This article was written by Eren Ersozoglu and originally published on Grey Dynamics. 

This Grey Dynamics African Intelligence Article analyses the SADAT paramilitary group, and the political de facto implications placed on Turkish-African relations and security amid an increase in cooperation between Turkey and African states.

  • Turkey’s private military contractor, SADAT, has been conducting military training programs in Africa since 2013.
  • With an increase in military deals with African nations and the growth of Turkey’s economic, political, and social footprint on the continent, SADAT can operate without the constraints of hampering government entities.
  • Retired Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi, the founder of SADAT, has expressed that Turkey should support Islamic groups against state terrorism in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Organisation

SADAT Inc. International Defense Consultancy is a Turkish private security contractor, founded by former Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdiin in 2012. Tanrıverdi had been forced into retirement in 1996, due to Islamist affiliations. Reports allege that SADAT is present in Syria and Iraq, in the form of paramilitary troops, training, and military ordnance procurement. There is a close relationship with SADAT and the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Many voices that are against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have raised concerns regarding the relationship. They believe that SADAT is a potential proxy force being utilized by Erdogan to extend the Turkish sphere of influence and interests globally. A lot of SADAT  personnel are Turkish military experts, who have been forced to leave the army because of extremist views.

It is important to note that Tanriverdi was appointed as Erdogan’s official chief advisor, following the 15th July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. He held the post up until January 2020. Tanriverdi had also stated that his company was paving the way for the messianic figure of Imam Mahdi: it is believed by some Muslims that Mahdi will arrive to redeem mankind.

There are concerning allegations that SADAT has been aiding and is involved in the training of Salafists in the Middle East and Africa. This would be in line with Tanriverdi’s views, which were expressed in Yeni Akit, a pro-Erdogan newspaper, sympathetic to Islamic extremist groups. An alleged 3,000 foreign fighters operating in Syria and Libya have received training from SADAT. Michael Rubin, from the American Enterprise Institute, argues that ISIS and al-Nusra members were part of the SADAT training operations. This creates an asymmetrical warfare tool, noticeable in Libya, and a growing Turkish presence in the rest of Africa.

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Libya

On November 27, 2019, Turkey signed a military cooperation agreement with Libya which includes the provision of “guest personnel.” SADAT is implicated in the reports of alleged Syrian fighters in Libya, supporting the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). This places Turkey’s backed SADAT forces against the Russian Wagner Group, which is allegedly backing Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) with mercenaries on the battlefield.

A significant force, trained by SADAT, was sent to Libya which some claim consisted of former Daesh and Muslim Brotherhood members. The GNA consists of a mainly Muslim Brotherhood ideology of members. Stimulated by a flow of fighters and Turkey’s drone army, the GNA has turned the tide in Libya.

It is highly likely that Turkish military aid to the GNA has diminished the effectiveness of LNA’s offense.

Expanding Network

Turkey has an expanding network in Africa involving more than 35 countries and a growing number of military training agreements. SADAT’s presence has been reported in the Suakin port in Sudan, a potential strategic outpost for Turkey, signaling a revival of Turkey’s influence and intentions in Africa. (The port was once a historic Ottoman port.) More recently in 2020, Turkey secured closer military cooperation deals with Uganda and Guinea.

Tanriverdi has declared an intent to work closer with African countries for military training but has also previously argued that Turkey should support Islamic groups against state terrorism: “In addition, I think that discriminatory and foreign-backed state terrorism targeting Islamic groups in some critical regions of Africa such as the Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria, and preventive measures [to protect those groups] should be studied carefully,” Tanrıverdi said.

Yet, it is also facing obstacles: Turkey is currently being investigated by the Nigerian Armed Forces over allegations that it supplied military equipment to Boko Haram.

It is almost certain that SADAT is loyal to Erdogan’s regime. What these indicators suggest is that Turkey’s paramilitary wings in Africa have well and truly taken off, for better or worse.