Security

Russia, Wagner Group hit with stinging loss as Libyan strongman in full retreat

Caravanserai and AFP

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A man waves a Libyan national flag as residents celebrate in the capital, Tripoli, on June 4 after the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) said it had retaken full control of the capital and its suburbs from a Russian-backed military strongman. [Mahmud TURKIA/AFP]

TRIPOLI -- Libya's United Nations (UN)-recognised government Friday (June 5) announced another victory in its counter-offensive against eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar, overrunning his last western stronghold of Tarhuna, launchpad of an abortive 14-month assault on the capital.

The long string of battlefield reversals in recent weeks and this latest retreat represent a stinging loss to Moscow, which has backed Haftar in its bid to take over the country with the help of Wagner Group mercenaries.

The recapture of the strategic town southeast of the capital capped a week that already saw the Government of National Accord (GNA) re-establish control over the whole of Greater Tripoli, including the abandoned civilian airport on its southern outskirts.

Tarhuna was the main rear base for the devastating offensive against the capital that Haftar's forces finally gave up this week, abandoning their remaining positions in the southern suburbs to advancing government troops.

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj vowed that his government would impose its control over the whole of Libya.

"Our fight continues, and we are determined to defeat the enemy, impose state control on the whole of the homeland and destroy all those who jeopardise the construction of a civil, democratic and modern state," Sarraj said.

Russian interference

The Wagner Group -- a paramilitary organisation that serves the agenda of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- has been co-ordinating a massive effort to recruit Syrian youths to fight as mercenaries in Libya.

Despite reaching the edge of the Libyan capital in early May, hundreds of Wagner Group mercenaries fled the front lines after being routed by the UN-backed government.

These setbacks come amid reports of a rift between Wagner and Haftar over the non-payment of a $150 million debt because of ineffective 'rookie fighters' sent from Syria. Haftar is refusing to pay Wagner.

Last week, Moscow was caught red-handed sending camouflaged fighter jets to Libya from an air base in Russia, after transiting Syria.

Earlier this week reports emerged saying that Moscow has been flooding Libya with counterfeit currency for more than four years as part of efforts by the Kremlin to back Haftar.

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