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Rogue warlord Haftar employing Russian-affiliated 'mercenary pilots' to bomb Libyan capital Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Rogue warlord Haftar employing Russian-affiliated 'mercenary pilots' to bomb Libyan capital

Dozens of people have been killed in Haftar’s airstrikes [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 November, 2019

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A senior source from Libya’s internationally recognised government says that pilots from Ukraine and Belarus have carried out airstrikes on Tripoli on behalf of rogue General Khalifa Haftar.

Ukrainian and Belarusian mercenary pilots and technicians are fighting with the forces of rogue Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, a senior source in the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) has said.

The unnamed source told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site that the pilots had carried out airstrikes on several sites associated with the UN-recognised GNA in the Libyan capital Tripoli and nearby cities.

This is not the first time that foreign mercenaries have been reported to be fighting with Haftar.

Comment: It’s time for the ICC to indict Haftar for war crimes

In early October the independent Russian-language website Meduza said that up to 35 Russians had been killed fighting for the Libyan warlord, whose forces launched an offensive against Tripoli in April. The mercenaries were suspected of being employed by Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military organisation, which also employs the Belarusian and Ukrainian pilots and technicians.

Haftar’s air force has recently intensified its airstrikes against Tripoli, Misrata, Sirte, and other cities held by the GNA. Haftar has received support from the UAE and Saudi Arabia in his campaign. Russia has also signalled its support for Haftar.

The GNA’s Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday that two policemen were killed in an airstrike by Haftar’s forces on a base belonging to the GNA’s Deterrent Force while three civilians were killed in an airstrike on the Ayn Zara area of Tripoli.

Haftar’s airstrikes on GNA-held areas have killed dozens of civilians this year.

The GNA source told The New Arab that  “Haftar has changed the way  he uses the Wanger Group after it lost a number of fighters recently south of Tripoli, including a prominent commander.”

He added that Wanger had provided Haftar with pilots and technicians, who are present at the Watiya Airbase, west of Tripoli, and the Al-Jafra Airbase to the south of the capital.

The official also said that Haftar had gained air superiority recently thanks to two F-16 fighter planes provided by the United Arab Emirates, which openly supports Haftar.

Khalifa Al-Haddad, a political scientist, said that Russia saw Libya as a gateway to Africa.

“Undoubtedly Moscow sees Libya, in its current chaotic state, as an important foothold to gain influence in the African sphere, and it’s building bases in Libya in line with this strategy and closing unofficial deals to sell weapons. This can’t be accomplished without Haftar and his military ambition.”

However, the GNA official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The New Arab that Russian support for Haftar wouldn’t last long.

“Russia is now convinced that Haftar is suffering from a crisis of funding and a shortage of fighters and ammunition and has failed,” he said. “It won’t gamble by giving him more diplomatic support like it did when he began the offensive against Tripoli.”

He said that Russia had recently hosted GNA Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj in Sochi while Haftar and the alternative Libyan government based in the east of the country were not being received in Russia in an official capacity.

Haftar, whose forces control most of eastern Libya, began an offensive to capture the Libyan capital Tripoli in April, killing over a thousand people. However, the offensive has stalled amid fierce resistance from the GNA’s armed forces and militias allied with them.

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