There has been speculation that Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) alliance of militias have sought to mislead his opponents and the international community into thinking that Russia is providing more support for his Tripoli campaign than it actually is. Mounting evidence suggests, however, that Moscow’s support for Haftar’s offensive is increasing since he launched his campaign against the capital in April.
On 22 September anti-LNA sources alleged that Russian-owned and operated drones had begun to be employed in Tripoli. They also claimed that fighters employed by Russia’s Wagner Group — which has strong links to President Vladimir Putin — were fighting alongside the LNA in south-eastern Tripoli and that they had killed several senior LNA leaders as well as Russian mercenaries in a series of airstrikes in Al-Sabaa on 23 September. Subsequent airstrikes purportedly killed another eight Russian mercenaries on 26 September alone. On 24 September several Libyan and Western sources claimed that earlier this month around 100 Wagner Group mercenaries were deployed to an LNA forward operating base to provide support for the Tripoli campaign. The following day the GNA’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashaaga appeared on television to claim that the LNA is increasingly dependent on Sudanese Janjaweed militants and Russian mercenaries.
Concrete evidence to support these claims that not only Russian drones but also Russian mercenaries are present in the Tripoli theatre has recently emerged. Leaked photographs allegedly depicting the Russian fighters have emerged. After LNA fortifications were overrun in southern Tripoli last week, the anti-LNA forces gathered personal possessions including: credit cards with Russian names on them; notebooks filled with Cyrillic script; Russian Orthodox icon prayer cards; and much more.