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US defence official confirms Russia is using Syrian, Libyan fighters in Ukraine

A pro-Haftar soldier escorting a prisoner captured by Haftar's forces during their offensive on the vicinity of the capital Tripoli, alleged to be part of mercenaries from Syria [ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP via Getty Images]
A pro-Haftar soldier escorting a prisoner captured by Haftar's forces during their offensive on the vicinity of the capital Tripoli, alleged to be part of mercenaries from Syria [ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP via Getty Images]

Russia has been using mercenaries from Libya and Syria in its military campaign in Ukraine, US Defence Department documents have shown earlier this week.

According to a transcript published by the Defence Department, an unnamed senior defence official stated that the Russian mercenary company Wagner Group "has been operating in the Donbas and that they have recruited from places like Syria and Libya and that they use Syrian and Libyan fighters."

The official told the questioner in the briefing, however, that "I couldn't give you an exact number or exactly where they're geolocated", referring to the fighters from Libya and Syria.

Since Moscow's launch of its invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, there have emerged numerous reports that it is recruiting fighters from the two countries to deploy them on the front lines of its military campaign. Russian president Vladimir Putin also boasted that 40,000 Syrian fighters had volunteered for Moscow's war effort.

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Yet those reports were constantly countered by other reports that no deployments or transportations have been made.

Last week, though, there were further reports of the movement of mercenaries from their positions in Libya, with 200 Wagner Group mercenaries and 1,000 Syrian mercenaries in the country having been withdrawn by Russia for unstated purposes.

The senor US defence official's testimony that Syrian and Libyan fighters are assisting Russian forces seems to provide further evidence confirming previous reports.

The withdrawal of mercenaries from the two countries – and their apparent transferral to Russian positions in Ukraine – comes amid setbacks suffered by the Russian military over the past two months which have forced it to give up its attempt to capture the capital Kyiv and refocus its efforts in the south and east of the country.

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