Forces loyal to Libya’s U.N.-recognised government parade a Pantsir air defense system truck in the capital Tripoli on May 20, 2020, after its capture at al-Watiya airbase from forces loyal to Libya’s eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar. (AFP Photo)
Hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting for Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognized government were evacuated from combat zones south of the capital Tripoli, according to various reports.
The reports come after a series of setbacks for Haftar’s year-long offensive to seize the capital from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
“An Antonov 32 military cargo plane landed at Bani Walid airport to resume the evacuation of Wagner [Group] mercenaries who had fled southern Tripoli, to an as-yet unconfirmed destination,” pro-GNA forces wrote on Twitter, according to Agence France-Press.
Salem Alaywan, the mayor of the town of Bani Walid told a local television channel that three planes took off with Wagner elements, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported.
Last month, in a report sent to the Security Council, United Nations experts corroborated U.S. media reports that the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian paramilitary organization seen as close to President Vladimir Putin, had sent fighters to back Haftar.
The Kremlin has always denied involvement.
At a U.N. Security Council videoconference earlier this month, Britain and the United States urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to Libya.
“Wagner Group activities continue to exacerbate the conflict and prolong the suffering of the Libyan people,” said British ambassador Jonathan Allen at that video meeting.
American ambassador Kelly Craft said that “all actors involved in the conflict in Libya must immediately suspend military operations.”
Their Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzia, dismissed the claims as “speculation.”
Pro-GNA forces, with growing support from Turkey, have chalked up a series of victories in recent weeks largely thanks to their air superiority.