Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has deployed about 1,200 mercenaries to Libya to strengthen the forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, according to a leaked United Nations report.
The 57-page report by independent sanctions monitors, submitted to the UN Security Council Libya sanctions committee, said Wagner deployed the mercenaries in specialised military tasks, including sniper teams.
“We’ve known for a long time that Russian mercenaries operate in Libya but we didn’t perhaps know the scale of the operations,” said Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from New York.
Russian private military contractors have clandestinely fought in support of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine, Reuters news agency previously reported, but the Kremlin denies it uses private military contractors abroad.
The UN sanctions monitors identified more than two dozen flights between Russia and eastern Libya from August 2018 to August 2019 by civilian aircraft “strongly linked to, or owned by” Wagner Group or related companies.
The monitors also listed the details of 122 Wagner operatives of “whom many are highly probably operational, or have been operational, within Libya”.
They said 39 were from Wagner’s specialist sniper group and the remaining 83 operatives were from its combat units.
The report said forces affiliated with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) had captured arms “typical of the weaponry observed being used by ChVK Wagner operatives elsewhere in eastern Ukraine and Syria”.
“We are very concerned. It is something of no help to the people of Libya,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Al Jazeera.
Across the Wagner Group, personnel are predominantly Russian but also include citizens of Belarus, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine, the report said. It added they have been identified using equipment typically reserved for Russia’s armed forces.
Since 2014, Libya has been split between areas controlled by the GNA in Tripoli and the northwest, and territory held by Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi.
Haftar launched a war a year ago to seize the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwest Libya.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the GNA is backed by Turkey.
The UNSC imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011 amid an uprising that overthrew longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.