Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, who attempted to capture the capital Tripoli and was defeated, has stepped up efforts to recruit members of gangs, militias accused of genocide and Russian-backed mercenaries in a desperate attempt to recoup battlefield losses.
Haftar’s illegal forces in eastern Libya tried to take advantage of the administrative gap in the country after a coup attempt in 2014. After taking over southern regions of Libya at the beginning of 2019, Haftar chose Tripoli as his new target with the support of foreign powers.
While Libya was preparing to hold a national consensus conference under the UN and all groups had accepted a ceasefire, Haftar ordered an attack to take over Tripoli on April 4, 2019 and seize the Government of National Accord (GNA), Libya’s UN-recognized legitimate administration.
But upon failing to achieve his objectives after 14 months, Haftar needed a constant stream of human resources in order to continue his war.
He struggled to gather fighters under a single roof with promises.
Sudan’s government launches operation to nab mercenaries
The Sudanese government announced on June 28 that 122 mercenaries who were preparing to go to Libya had been arrested in an operation.
The presence of Sudanese fighters who were deceived by the United Arab Emirates-based security company Black Shield Security Services and taken to Libya is also widely mentioned in UN reports.
Syrian mercenaries from Assad regime’s side increase
Russia also increased its efforts to bring mercenaries from Syria under the control of the Assad regime to Libya, according to local sources.
Moscow has sent 300 mercenaries, most of them Syrians who are fighting for the regime, from the city of Deir ez-Zor. Among the new fighters, there are also some Iranian and Afghan nationals.
The mercenaries were taken to Russia’s military points in Latakia, Syria for training.
Eight former members of Daesh, also known as ISIS, were among the fighters Russia sent to Libya.
It is estimated that the number of mercenaries sent by Russia to Haftar from various provinces in Syria has reached nearly 2,000.
Thousands of Wagner Group mercenaries fighting on frontline
Russia’s Wagner Group is one of the most controversial groups among the mercenaries. It is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a catering magnate who is also known as “Putin’s chef" due to his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The firm is known for its mercenaries and political activities in Syria, Ukraine, Libya and other African countries.
Wagner is known for its support of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and separatist groups in eastern Ukraine as well as the activities of its mercenaries in Syria, Ukraine and African countries.
According to UN reports, Wagner is working for Haftar with more than a thousand mercenaries.
Wagner’s presence in Libya becomes visible
Mercenaries from the Wagner Group turned the military balance in favor of Haftar after intervening in the conflict in Libya. The group’s military presence had remained uncertain for a long time.
Video footage of thousands of mercenaries reportedly affiliated with Wagner was captured while they were withdrawing from the front lines in the capital to areas under Haftar’s control and revealed the security company's activities in Libya.
Anadolu Agency teams monitored the places where the Wagner Group withdrew from and proved the presence of the group on the ground in Libya with many notes scribbled in Russian on the walls of civilian homes as well as Russian books left behind.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) announced on July 5 that the Al-Sharara oil field had been occupied by Wagner mercenaries. NOC said it had video and sound recordings of this as proof.
Additionally, NOC reported that foreign mercenaries entered Sidra oil port in eastern Libya just a few days ago and that they are working to make it a military center.
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has released satellite pictures of Russian MiG-29 and Su-27 fighter jets that landed in Libya, stating they are likely to be used by Wagner Group mercenaries.
Ill-famed Janjaweed militias from Darfur
The Janjaweed militia, which is accused of genocide in the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, was at the forefront of the war in Libya alongside Haftar’s forces.
Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said Haftar gave a military base in Libya to the UAE and emphasized that foreign fighters from the Wagner Group, Janjaweed militia and Chadian fighters fought together.
The UN Security Council’s reports also highlighted that there are many foreign fighters from Darfur on the ground in Libya.
Although Haftar denies the presence of foreign fighters in his ranks, his activities in Libya’s Oil Crescent region and reliance on foreign fighters from Darfur to provide security in Jufra district were highlighted in the UN Security Council’s various reports on Libya.
Moreover, non-state actors from Darfur who obtained weapons and power in Libya became involved in activities such as arms trade and human trafficking.
ICC issues arrest warrant for Haftar commander
Extremist Medhali Salafists advocate the view that rulers should be obeyed. They consider Saudi Arabia as their ruler, so they fight for Haftar, who is backed by Riyadh.
The Nida Battalion, the most prominent among Salafist movements, is commanded by Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes.
Haftar announced in July that he had promoted Werfalli from a so-called major to lieutenant colonel.
Werfalli is accused of executing many people in Benghazi, capturing the entire act on video.
Al-Qaniyat units in Tarhuna
On June 5, the Libyan army liberated the city of Tarhuna, which was being used as an operation and supply center by militias loyal to Haftar.
Hundreds of corpses were found in the city hospital, a container belonging to the hospital and a water well near the city.
The most tragic part in Tarhuna came to light when mass graves were excavated as part of investigations opened by the Libyan government.
Additionally, some 30 corpses have been found on farmland in Tarhuna.
Al-Qaniyat units are accused of indiscriminately targeting tribes and families which they considered opponents during their domination of the city.
The units, located in Tarhuna city, 90 kilometers (56 miles) southeast of the capital, are under the control of the Qani brothers. The vast majority of the units consist of ex-soldiers of Libyan late leader Muammar Gaddafi's army.
These units previously worked for Libya's UN-recognized GNA in Tripoli but were cast aside due to their links to Haftar.
They leaked information to Haftar's forces and made the occupation of some neighborhoods south of the capital possible.