Russia sends Syrian mercenaries to Libyan warlord Haftar
Hundreds of former Syrian rebels have travelled to Libya to fight for rogue General Khalifa Haftar against the internationally-recognised Tripoli government, a leading Syria analyst has said on Twitter.
Sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that the Russian private security firm Wagner Group has been training former Syrian rebel fighters at the Assad regime's "18th unit" camp, eastern Homs province, in preparation for their departure to Libya.
Hundreds of Russian and East European mercenaries from the Wagner Group have fought for Haftar against the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA).
The sources said that most of the ex-rebel fighters were from Quneitra in southwestern Syria, and that all of them had previously been wanted by the regime for taking part in the anti-government uprising.
Some had received an amnesty after opposition areas in southern Syria were overrun by regime and Russian forces in 2018, but were expected to fight for Assad.
The sources said that Syrian regime intelligence had helped recruit the ex-rebels for the Wagner Group.
The Syrian opposition media group Horan Free Media quoted a source close to one of the ex-rebels as saying that "officers in the Syrian regime’s military intelligence as well as the mayors of villages and towns in [Quneitra] province began to recruit young men about a month ago for the Wagner Group".
They will be given a salary of $1,000 a month, clemency from the regime for their role in the anti-Assad uprising, and an exemption from compulsary military service in the regime army.
The source added that the ex-rebel fighters would work protecting oil installations belonging to Russia on Haftar-controlled territory in Libya for a period of three months.
Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides in the Libyan conflict, with the latter supporting the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord.
Last January, Turkey deployed 2,000 fighters from the "Syrian National Army" militia to Libya, to fight on the side of the GNA against Haftar.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Syria researcher, said that approximately 350 rebels from Syria's Quneitra province had been transported by Russia to Libya to fight for the Haftar.
His forces are taking part in an offensive in the Libyan capital Tripoli since last year.
In March, the unrecognised eastern Libya-based "authority" allied to Haftar established diplomatic relations with the Assad regime and signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to work together against "Turkish interference".
There have been fears that foreign mercenaries fighting in Libya could help accelerate the spread of coronavirus in the war-torn North African country.