Libya at the brink of crucial battle

Unidentified Tanzania soldiers
  • Mercenary groups are amassing in the city of Sirte as the two sides opposing sides in the Libyan civil war prepare of a major battle.

The decade-old Libyan civil war may have arrived at a turning point. And ironically, it’s mercenaries who are the forefront of the battle.In recent weeks, the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has made some significant gains against General Khalifa Haftar’s Eastern-based army, thanks to support form Turkey. It recaptured Tripoli and Tarhuna and is set to be preparing for the capture of Sirte and the inland air base in al-Jufra from Haftar’s forces. Sirte is the point after which Eastern Libya begins, home to important oil ports that Haftar now controls.

He too is preparing to stand his ground. This is the last settlement before the start of the areas under Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army, a loose-knit group of various militia and mercenary groups. And thousands of these Eastern forces have now converged on Sirte, in order to shore up the defence, at this symbolically important city, the hometown of former dictator Muammar Gadaffi.

Local sources in the towns between Benghazi and Sirte confirm that many convoys passed through, with several foreign fighters in their midst. Haftar’s side released a video showing reinforcements made up of Sudanese and Chadian fighters and at least 3,000 Russian mercenaries. Only last week, Sudan arrested 122 of its nationals on their way to fight in the Libyan war as mercenaries. There were eight children among them.

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The GNA has reacted to the amassing of this army by calling on the US and EU to impose sanctions on the various mercenary groups in the country. This came in response to the takeover of Libyan National Oil Corporation’s El-Sharara oil field by some of these fighters. GNA is also highlighting the alleged war crimes committed by these groups with the discovery of several mass graves in Tarhuna, which until recently was under Haftar’s grasp.

GNA has said that the ‘liberation’ of Sirte and Jufra is most urgent as it has become the most dangerous place in Libya after it became a focal point for Russian, Syrian and African mercenaries. It says the city of 125,000 has become a grave security risk and it will most likely stop advancing after it has been recaptured from Haftar. He initially captured the city without firing a single bullet when one of the militia switched allegiances.

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