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Hundreds of Russian, Syrian mercenaries quit Libya’s front lines

Haftar had seemed poised to make inroads into Tripoli before Turkey escalated its military intervention in January, helping the government regain swathes of territory.

Alaywan said about 1500 Russian and Syrian mercenaries had flown from Bani Walid to Haftar’s Juffra airbase in central Libya. The mayor said the mercenaries were still arriving at the city, which wanted to remain neutral in the war and did not support their presence.

Libyan Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar.

Libyan Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar.Credit:Getty Images

“We are opposed to any foreign mercenaries in Bani Walid or Libya,” he said.

Both sides have relied heavily on mercenaries. In January, Turkey began sending thousands of Syrian militiamen to support the government in Tripoli and Haftar is supported by Syrian and Sudanese fighters.

The redeployment came as Haftar issued a renewed call to arms in an audio statement at the weekend, and days after his air force chief said he would launch a campaign targeting Turkish assets in Libya.

The Tripoli-based government’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told Bloomberg that Haftar had received a new fleet of Soviet-era jets from a Russian-controlled base in Syria.

Military support

The reason behind the mercenaries’ withdrawal was not immediately clear. UN acting envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams last week said the yearlong conflict could further escalate as both sides’ foreign backers doubled down on military support.

But a renewed arms race could also prompt Turkey and Russia to step back from the brink and pressure their local clients to sign a ceasefire. In January, Moscow had hosted a meeting where the Tripoli-based government agreed to a ceasefire, but Haftar refused.

Turkey and Russia have again announced their support for ending the fighting, which has killed more than 2000 people, a call backed by US President Donald Trump, who had spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone at the weekend, according to the White House.


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