There are as many as 1,200 mercenaries from a Russian military contractor fighting alongside the forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Libya's civil war, a leaked UN report says.
According to the BBC, the 57-page report says the mercenaries from the Wagner Group have been participating in combat operations, acting as artillery and air observers and providing electronic countermeasures expertise and deploying as sniper teams. They are said to have been in Libya since October 2018.
Haftar, supported by Russia, the UAE and Egypt, has been locked in battle with Libya's internationally recognized government that is backed by Turkey and Qatar.
The majority of the soldiers of fortune are said to be Russian, with some Serbians, Moldovans, Ukrainians and Belarussians. There are also mercenaries from Syria among Haftar's forces, the report says.
The shadowy Wagner Group is also reported to be involved in fighting in Syria and several other countries. Reports in the Russian media have claimed the group is overseen by Russia's military intelligence.
Meanwhile, US officials on May 7 criticized Haftar's ongoing offensive against the Libyan capital Tripoli. "The attack on the capital diverts resources from what is a priority for us, which is counterterrorism,” said Henry Wooster, deputy assistant secretary at State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
“There is a very troubling other element here and that is….Haftar’s establishment of so-called diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, which is very much a part of the piece of the question of Syrian mercenaries, at least on his side of the equation,” he added.
Meanwhile, Jim Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria, said the situation in Libya could become even more complex. "We know that, certainly the Russians are working with Assad to transfer militia fighters, possibly third country, possibly Syrian, to Libya, as well as equipment," he said.