Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya, strengthening the forces of eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar, according to a confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The 57-page report by independent sanctions monitors, submitted to the U.N. Security Council Libya sanctions committee, said the Russian contractor deployed forces in specialized military tasks, including sniper teams.
Haftar launched a war a year ago to grab the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwest Libya. Since 2014, Libya has been split between areas controlled by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the northwest, and territory held by Haftar’s eastern-based forces in Benghazi.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey. The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011 amid an uprising that ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The sanctions monitors said that while they could not independently verify the scale of the deployment to Libya by Wagner Group, “based on open source reporting and the limited sightings assesses that the maximum number of individual private military operatives deployed to be no more than 800 to 1,200”.
“Their deployment has acted as an effective force multiplier for (Haftar),” the sanctions monitors wrote.
When asked in January if the Wagner Group were fighting in Libya, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if there are Russians in Libya, they are not representing the Russian state, nor are they paid by the state.
Wagner Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read more: Reuters