A Kremlin-linked Russian private military company reportedly operating in Libya has recruited hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to fight in the war-torn North African country, Reuters reported on Sunday.
The Wagner Group is conducting the hiring with Russian military supervision, the agency said, citing five Syrian opposition and regional sources.
Russia has thrown its support behind commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) against the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in the capital Tripoli.
Analysts say increased Turkish military support for the GNA has helped the internationally recognised government recover most of the territory lost to the LNA since Haftar launched an assault to capture Tripoli in April 2019.
Part of Ankara’s contribution to the GNA pushback was the reported flying in of thousands in reinforcement from Turkish-backed militias in Syria.
“New recruits to the Russian effort in support of Haftar included 300 from the Homs area, among them former Free Syrian Army fighters” and some 320 from southwestern Syria, Reuters said. An LNA spokesman denied it had recruited Syrian fighters.
The fighters are trained at a base in Homs before going to Libya and offered salaries ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 a month, it said.
Wagner, a mercenary group that has reportedly operated in Libya since December, has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya, according to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters in May. Moscow has denied having forces in Libya and that Russians fighting there did not represent Russia.
“Russia and Turkey are both escalating their fire power and force numbers in Libya, where Europe has been caught on its heels,” said Reuters, quoting Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, as saying.
“Russia has tried to match Turkey’s effort to send Syrian mercenaries, but with mixed results.”