100 Russian mercenaries fighting for Haftar’s forces on Tripoli frontlines
A private army linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun fighting on the front lines of the Libyan war, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest projection of Russian power following a decisive military intervention in Syria.
Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that more than 100 mercenaries from the Wagner group headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef” for his Kremlin catering contracts, arrived at a forward base in Libya in the first week of September to support eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar’s assault on the capital Tripoli, said the people, who included Libyan and Western officials. All asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak with the press.
A Russian mercenary commander also confirmed that Wagner contractors were fighting in Libya, and said that some had been killed in action there. Their arrival this month coincided with an escalation in airstrikes in support of Haftar, who’s pushing for decisive gains on the battlefield to strengthen his hand before an international peace conference expected next month. His forces have been bogged down at Tripoli’s outskirts since early April, Bloomberg reported.
Russia is distancing itself from the struggling UN-backed administration in Tripoli and expects Haftar now to gain the upper hand after his initial failure to push into the capital, said a person close to the government in Moscow. Russian officials believe there will be a role for ex-dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s fugitive son in any future power structure in Libya, though not as leader of the country, the person said, according to Bloomberg.