A group of Western mercenaries linked with companies based in the United Arab Emirates has been revealed to have been briefly deployed to Libya to fight alongside the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, according to a confidential report by the United Nations accessed by Bloomberg.
The team of around 20 mercenaries, led by a South African national named Steve Lodge, arrived in Libya in late June 2019 as part of a “well funded private military company operation” in support of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s campaign to conquer the country from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Only a few days after their arrival, however, they suddenly pulled out of the country and left the country to travel to Malta aboard two boats. The UN report stated that it did not know the reason for their withdrawal, but the investigators were not convinced with the claim by the team’s lawyers that they were simply on a trip to provide oil and gas services.
The team is associated with the private military companies of Lancaster 6 DMCC and Opus Capital Asset Limited FZE, both based and registered in the UAE. Although it is not known which government or entity hired them and deployed them to Libya, their presence in the Emirates and the fact that Haftar is supported by Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE has provided some clues.
The UN report, which has not been shared publicly, also detailed that the companies Opus and Lancaster 6 has directed and financed an operation to provide the LNA with aircraft such as drones and helicopters and cyber capabilities. This was reportedly done indirectly through a complex network of cover companies.
Throughout Haftar’s offensive to capture the GNA-held city of Tripoli over the past year, various foreign mercenary groups have been contracted to fight alongside the LNA and provide military and logistical support. Among these are Russian mercenaries from the infamous Wagner Group, Syrian fighters loyal to the Assad regime, Sudanese forces, and other mercenary groups from the UAE.
These Western mercenaries, however, who are reported to carry British, American, French, Australian and South African passports, are noted to have intended to carry out more sophisticated and higher-level operations such as preventing arms shipments from Turkey to the GNA, through methods involving the use of vessels and helicopters. This would explain the report’s findings that six former military helicopters were obtained and sent to Libya ahead of the team’s arrival – a blatant violation of the UN’s arms embargo on the country.
The companies behind the mercenary team, however, have denied the report’s allegations and have stated that they will defend themselves from it. In a letter from the lawyer Vince Gordon representing the companies, the former Australian air force pilot Christiaan Durrant who heads Lancaster 6 said that “allegations about the unlawful activity of Opus and Lancaster 6 in Libya are simply not factual and spread based on a patchwork of half truths.”
The letter insisted that they had cooperated with the UN’s investigation and had even offered to meet the panel, saying that “Our clients intend to vigorously defend themselves and their directors and employees against false and misleading allegations.”