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Private mercenary army linked to Putin joins Haftar forces in Libya

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia on 27 August 2019 [Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency]
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia on 27 August 2019 [Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency]

A private mercenary military force linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin has joined the fighting on the front lines of the Libyan civil war, aligning itself with the forces of the rival government under Khalifa Haftar.

Over 100 mercenary soldiers from the private military company named the Wagner group arrived at a base in Libya during the first week of September to begin fighting in support of Haftar and his assault on the capital Tripoli, according to Libyan and Western officials. The group is operating under the leadership of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has earned the name "Putin's chef" for his catering contracts in the Kremlin.

On Monday, Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told the country's Al-Ahrar TV that Haftar's forces had previously employed Sudanese soldiers to help them in their assault on Tripoli, but "after they failed they relied on the Wagner company".

The mercenaries' arrival in the Libyan conflict is the latest addition to an already-crowded battlefield, with both the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli and Haftar's rival government in Benghazi having been fighting over the country since the overthrow of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Both factions are supported and backed by a variety of players in the region: with Haftar' Libyan National Army (LNA) being backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia, while the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is backed by Turkey militarily and much of the international community.

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The Libyan civil war is not the first conflict Prigozhin's group has been involved in, his company operates in the assault on Syria's opposition-held province of Idlib, props up and protects the government in the Central African Republic, runs protection operations and security training to various strongmen in Africa, and owned a company in the United States (US) which was indicted on charges of funding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. These adventures have made Prigozhin a key player in Russia's expansive foreign policy throughout the years.

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