Russia’s Wagner Group has withdrawn about 1,300 of its mercenaries from Libya to Russia through Syria to participate in the Russian military operation in Ukraine, according to military and strategic expert Colonel Adel Abdel Kafi.
According to Abdel Kafi: “The total number of Russian Wagner mercenaries present on Libyan soil is about 2,200.”
He added, “Due to its war on Ukraine, Russia decided to withdraw 1,300 Wagner personnel, leaving only 900,” according to reports by Anadolu Agency.
He explained that the Wagner fighters were withdrawn from their posts on the road linking Sirte-Jufra, while they strengthened their positions at the strategic Al-Jufra and Brak Al-Shati airbases.
On 22 February, Libya’s Panorama channel quoted an unidentified source disclosing that 300 Wagner fighters were withdrawn from Sukanah and Wadan and heading south.
On 24 February, Russia launched a military operation against its neighbour Ukraine, which prompted world capitals and regional and international organisations to impose sanctions on Moscow that included multiple sectors, including diplomatic, economic, financial and sports.
The number of Wagner mercenaries in Libya varies from one source to another, but Head of the Supreme Council of State Khaled Al-Mishri estimated their number at about 7,000, along with 30 jet aircraft.
Abdel Kafi added: “Wagner now relies on African mercenaries, whom I supervised training in a number of locations.”
He continued: “The dirt runway used by Wagner’s mercenaries (in southern Libya) is guarded by Chadian mercenaries, who were trained by Wagner months ago to carry out operations against Chad, as part of Russia’s strategy to extend to some African countries or former French colonies to take them from the French control.”
Abdel Kafi pointed out: “Wagner is now continuing to recruit African mercenaries to reinforce their positions after withdrawing some heavy weapons, such as Pantsir (anti-aircraft) systems, to the Al-Jufra and Brak Al-Shati airbases.”
On the nationalities of the African mercenaries, Abdel Kafi shared: “Wagner recruited mercenaries from Mali, Chad and Sudan, and they were pushed along with the Syrian elements in the company’s ranks.”
Wagner Group in Libya
Wagner mercenaries have been in Libya since October 2018, according to a United Nations report published by Western media outlets in May 2020, which stated that their number ranged between 800 and 1,000.
However, Wagner’s role intensified after its participation in the aggression led by General Khalifa Haftar’s forces against the capital, Tripoli, in April 2019. Their withdrawal from the fighting fronts at the end of May 2020 led to the collapse of eastern Libyan forces led by Haftar and the retreat to the Sirte-Jufra front.
Wagner mercenaries are currently active between the governorates of Sirte (450 km east of Tripoli) and Jufra (600 km southeast of Tripoli) and are based in the Ghardabiya Airbase in Sirte and its seaport. They are also active in the Al-Jufra airbase and extended southwest, also based in the Brak Al-Shati airbase (700 km south of Tripoli).
The Libyan army monitored the movements of Wagner mercenaries several times in the Sirte and Al-Jufra airbases, and it has also repeatedly announced the monitoring of the arrival of flights carrying mercenaries of different nationalities.
Despite the agreement of the Libyan parties on 23 October, 2020, to expel foreign mercenaries led by Wagner from their country within three months of that date, this has not been achieved on the ground.
Western governments and analysts accuse Wagner groups of committing human rights violations in Africa and being involved in conflicts in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Chad, and recently, Mali.