Russia is accused of using a Syrian airline to send mercenaries to the warlord Khalifa Haftar, with France and the UAE in support.
The UAE, Russia and France are working in tandem to complicate the Libyan conflict and jeopardise all the work of the international community toward peacebuilding in the war-torn nation.
The latest manoeuvers the three powers have made are mostly aimed at sending more mercenary fighters ranging from members of the Syrian regime forces to Wagner Group fighters and even former members of Daesh.
Dr Guma el Gamaty, a special envoy to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to Northwest Africa, told TRT World that they have "witness reports" from the Benghazi region clearly suggesting that Cham Wings flights were used to transport mercenaries over the last two years to add strength to Haftar's forces. The hired fighters, he said, included the Syrian regime fighters and fighters from Russia's Wagner Group.
"We also know and have reports confirmed by the US that the UAE is funding these fighters arriving from Syria to Benghazi and there is a clear cooperation between the UAE and Russia in providing Haftar with military support including weapons and fighters where the UAE is the financier of these operations," said Gamaty, who is also an academic and politician heading the Taghyeer political party in Libya.
Gamaty said since the UAE has large investments in France and is the second-biggest client for French weapons, the tiny Gulf nation has "leveraged France to support Haftar".
Russia’s plans to reinforce Haftar’s militias in Libya with mercenaries and Assad regime fighters have been widely reported by both regional and international media.
Last April, a high-ranking Russian commander-led delegation had multiple meetings with forces fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria's Daraa province. According to media reports, Russia offered $1,000 and a 3-month renewable contract to each pro-regime fighter in exchange for their service to the Libyan warlord.
Reports suggest that Russia runs military camps in Syria to train different mercenary groups and hired guns. In March this year, Moscow reportedly signed a deal with several mercenary groups working for the Assad regime in Syria's southern city of Quneitra.
The mercenaries sent by Russia reportedly include the Shabiha militias from Syria’s Deir Ezzor province that are linked to the Assad regime as well as Iran-backed foreign groups called Fatimiyyun, Zeynebiyyun and Jerusalem brigades. They are trained on Russian military bases in Syria’s Latakia province, made combat-ready and sent to Libya to join Haftar’s forces.
Russia has reportedly recruited former members of Daesh after they signed a "compromise" agreement with the Syrian regime and then joined the Jerusalem Brigade.
In May 2019, according to a UN report, Cham Wings flew Syrian mercenaries to Libya. These mercenaries were reportedly given three-month contracts with Russia's private military company Wagner. Moscow, however, denies having any role in Wagner's involvement in Libya.
When the UN panel asked Damascus about the flights to Benghazi, the Syrian regime said the flights were for civilians, "particularly those Syrians living in Libya."
But a report prepared by the UN committee of experts revealed the regime was transporting hundreds of Syrian and Russian mercenaries from a Syrian military airbase to Benghazi in 2019.
A recent media report quoting a 'source' at Benina International Airport in Benghazi suggests that Haftar was expecting to receive new reinforcements from Damascus via Cham Wings by early December.
Syria’s Cham Wings Airlines Operates Direct Flights to Benghazi— Libya Review (@LibyaReview) December 13, 2020
Cham Wings Airlines added that the flights will be operated every Sunday and Thursday...#Libya #LibyaReviewhttps://t.co/dGrZW8fIHc
On the other hand, the GNA forces recently said that a plane full of Syrian mercenaries had indeed landed in Benghazi.
Abdul Hadi Dara, the spokesman for the Sirte and Juffra operation of the Libyan armed forces, told Anadolu Agency that they have "solid information of mercenaries on board a plane that belongs to Syrian-owned Cham Wings Airlines which arrived from Syria to Benina airport."
France, Russia, the UAE and Benina Airport
France's disruptive position on Libya came to the fore in 2016 when three undercover French soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Benghazi. Since the event, France has time and again come under international scrutiny over its role in Libya's civil war.
For one, it has violated the UN arms embargo on several occasions. In July 2019, a Pentagon investigation concluded that Paris had supplied American-made anti-tank missiles to Haftar's forces. Each missile is worth $170,000 and the US only sells it to "close allies," such as France.
Contradicting the UN's position on the Libyan conflict, which was to assist GNA and involve other rival forces for a peaceful transition of power, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian publicly expressed Paris's support for the Egyptian air strikes against the GNA.
Le Drian is known to be the architect of France’s Libya policy. He has reportedly convinced French President Emmanuel Macron that Libya was "low-hanging fruit" and Haftar was the man to place all the bets on.
In June, following French President Macron’s hostile statements against Turkey's role in Libya, Macron placed a phone call to his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders reasserted their position saying that they will continue to support Haftar, sparking criticism from the international community.