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Russia “accelerated” its recruitment of Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya for rebel leader Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in May, contracting hundreds of Syrian fighters according to a new Reuters report.
Citing five Syrian opposition sources and a regional source with knowledge of the recruitment, Reuters found that among the new recruits in May were 300 fighters from the Homs area of Syria – including some former Free Syrian Army fighters – and roughly 320 from southwest Syria. Russia recruited over 900 Syrians in total to fight in Libya in May, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which cites “a network of sources on the ground.”
The Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, carried out the hiring under the supervision of the Russian army, according to Reuter’s report. Trained at a base in Homs prior to deployment to Libya, the fighters were paid salaries of about $1,000 to $2,000 a month.
Russia’s shipment of fighters into Libya, if the Reuters report is true, violates a U.N. arms embargo. On May 19, the U.N.’s acting Libya envoy urged the U.N. Security Council to take action to stop “a massive influx of weaponry, equipment, and mercenaries” into Libya.
Reuters explains that, as the conflict in Syria died down, many former Syrian rebels who remained in regions recovered by Damascus and its Russian allies signed agreements that “required them to pledge loyalty to the state.” This accounts for the inclusion of some Free Syrian Army fighters in Russia’s mercenary forces.
Despite the influx of fresh fighters in May, in recent months the LNA has slowly lost many of the territorial gains it won over the past year in Libya. On May 24, the LNA experienced a major setback when over 1,000 Russian and Syrian mercenary fighters allied to Haftar retreated from Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
On June 4, troops loyal to the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) declared victory over the LNA after successfully taking full control of the capital. The victory came after the LNA tried for over a year to take over Tripoli, strategically important in the battle for Libya.
Russia, Syria, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates support the LNA, while Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian militias support the GNA.