Here’s a quick look into the groups that fuel Khalifa Haftar’s war against the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Libyan Warlord Khalifa Haftar launched an extensive and brutal military campaign against the UN-backed government in Tripoli in April last year.
Haftar's so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) claims to have 80,000 fighters, but according to the Italian Institute for International Political Studies it has just 7,000 core full-time militia members out of a total 25,000 force and 18,000 auxiliary forces.
The study also says that Haftar's militia is filled with criminals and mercenaries, a far cry from Haftar's description of his men being a disciplined and professional force. As per the report, one of his senior commanders, Mahmoud al Werfalli, is a fugitive, dodging an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.
While Haftar has failed to invade the capital city Tripoli on several occasions, the conflict recently took a new turn with mercenaries siding with Haftar. Apart from Wagner Group, with its Russian links, Haftar has managed to rope in several dozen militias full of ragtag bandits and criminals.
Here's a quick insight into some of the main fighting groups Haftar is heavily dependent on.
According to several reports, the Wagner Group is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The group's presence was first reported in eastern Ukraine, where its mercenaries fought alongside pro-Russian forces, who had revolted against the Eurocentric government of Ukraine.
Headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin who is also known as a former ‘Hotdog Seller’ and ‘Putin’s Chef’ for having catering contracts with the Kremlin, the Wagner Group has earned notoriety for being a proxy front for Putin's wars in the Middle East and Europe, and Prigozhin its enabler.
The Wagner Group has started deploying mercenaries to the front lines of the Libyan war following Russia’s decisive military intervention in Syria where hundreds of Wagner’s mercenaries were reportedly killed during clashes with the US forces as they attempted to seize an oil refinery in Syria in 2018.
The US Assistant Secretary for the Affairs of the Near East, David Schenker stated that the US is to work with European countries to place sanctions on Wagner, citing “the spectre of large-scale civilian killings" by the Wagner Group.
According to Bloomberg,1,400 militia members of the Wagner Group are currently present in Libya and brought in 25 Russian pilots who carried out training activities for the Haftar troops. In addition, Russian Sukhoi-22 warplanes have been seen in Libyan skies.
Janjaweed Militia - Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
The Janjaweed is an armed group from South Sudan. Former Sudanese president Omar al Bashir officially converted the Janjaweed Militia into the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services. They were used to defeat rebel groups in the country in 2013.
Human Rights Watch’s report revealed that the RSF militias have committed war crimes, rapes, and displaced civilians in 2014 and 2015 in Darfur.
Last July, reports emerged that the first unit of the RSF militia arrived in Libya to support Haftar for his operation to capture Tripoli. At least 1,000 militia members reportedly arrived in the oil-rich country.
RSF is also led by a warlord named Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti.
Salafist Madkhali Group
The Nidaa Battalion is another prominent group among Salafist movements which is commanded by Mahmoud al Wirfalli. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for him for war crimes. Last July, warlord Haftar promoted Wirfalli from a so-called major to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
All Wirfalli is accused of executing 10 blindfolded people in Benghazi and capturing the entire act on video.
Salafist Tawheed Union
The head of this group is Ashraf al Miyar who participated in the uprising against Gaddafi. The group has a defined view for those who oppose Haftar, referring them to as "heretics” saying “it is permissible to shed their blood".
Sabil al-Salam units
This unit operates in the south-east of Libya and is commanded by Abdel-Rahman al Kilani.
Al Qaniyat units
Located in Tarhuna city, 90 kilometres southeast of the capital, these units are under the control of the Qani brothers and the majority of the units comprise of former Gaddafi soldiers.
Al Qaniyat units previously worked for Libya’s internationally recognised government (GNA) but were cast aside due to their links to Haftar.