Local officials said the Russian fighters allied to the warlord Khalifa Haftar retreated with their heavy equipment from the capital to the airport of Bani Walid, a town some 150 km southeast of Tripoli.

Fighters loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government are seen after taking control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020.
Fighters loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government are seen after taking control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. (Reuters Archive)

A local mayor in Libya said on Sunday that Russia’s Wagner Group, which supported renegade warlord Khalifa Haftar, has left the country.

The Russian fighters allied to Haftar's militia retreated with their heavy equipment from the capital to the airport of Bani Walid, a town some 150 kilometres southeast of Tripoli, said Salem Alaywan, the mayor of the town of Bani Walid.

He said the Russians had now been flown out of western Libya to Jufra, a remote central district and LNA stronghold.

"They (the Russians) were flown in three military planes to Jufra and their military vehicles were driven there," he said.

The reported departure of the Russians is another blow to the warlord Khalifa Haftar, and his foreign allies.

Haftar's militia, backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have been trying to capture the capital for 13 months, but suffered a string of defeats in recent weeks in fighting against Turkey-backed forces of the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Libya's government launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter attacks on the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwest Libya.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political agreement.

Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said more than 2,000 Wagner mercenaries were fighting in the war-ravaged country.

The Russians' presence has been widely documented by diplomats and journalists. Pictures purportedly showing Russians, some sitting on trucks, in Bani Walid were posted on social media.

The Tripoli government, known as the GNA, has with Turkish help made sudden strides, seizing a string of towns from the LNA, capturing the strategically important al Watiya airbase and destroying several Russian-made air defence systems.

"The withdrawal (of the Russians) from the greater Tripoli area is a very meaningful event because it deprives the LNA of its most effective, best-equipped foreign fighting forces on that key front," said Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute said.

Haftar's militia still holds the town of Tarhouna south of Tripoli with the help of a local armed group.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies