On January 22nd, CNN reported that “Russian-backed mercenaries Wagner” are digging a massive trench across Libya.
It is unclear what it is for, but it is “raising fears that foreign fighters will not withdraw from the country by Saturday [January 23rd], as an UN-brokered peace deal insists.”
Unnamed US officials are also concerned over the goals of the mythical mercenaries. CNN refers to them as “Kremlin allies”, there is surprisingly no mention of “Putin’s Chef Yevgeny Prigozhin” who is always mentioned as “Wagner” alleged owner.
— il kanguru (@il_kanguru) January 1, 2021
The trench reportedly extends dozens of kilometers south from the populated coastal areas around Sirte towards al-Jufra. It can be seen on satellite imagery and is bolstered by a series of elaborate fortifications.
The trench and fortifications appear designed to impede or stop a land attack on the areas in the east that are under the protection of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
The Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has posted images of excavators and trucks creating the ditch and berm that runs alongside it and said that work appeared ongoing as recently as in January 2021.
The trench, an unnamed US intelligence official said, is another reason “we see no intent or movement by either Turkish or Russian forces to abide by the UN-brokered agreement. This has the potential to derail an already fragile peace process and ceasefire. It will be a really difficult year ahead.”
Open-source monitoring says it has mapped a series of more than 30 defensive positions dug into the desert and hillsides that stretch for about 70 kilometres.
Satellite imagery from Maxar, seems to show both the trench stretching along a main road, and the fortifications.
Salaheddin Al-Namroush GNA Defense Minister, told CNN the following:
“I don’t think anyone digging a trench today and making these reinforcements is leaving anytime soon.”
Claudia Gazzini, from the International Crisis Group, said that the trench was “indeed worrying,” and that talk of it “has been circulating between diplomats for the past few weeks. It is ongoing and would suggest Moscow is keen to cement its presence in Libya.”
Gazzini added there were repeated reports that both sides continued to maintain and build a presence of foreign mercenaries, with the GNA also accused of boosting its supplies of military equipment, under a public deal with Turkey to support its armed forces.
In a confirmation of the trenches, LNA’s Major General Khaled al-Mahjoub, confirmed to CNN the existence of the trenches to CNN, but described them as “temporary” sand barriers and trenches, in “an open area… for defense and fighting.”
He denied the presence of 2,000 Wagner mercenaries, and said there were Russian consultants “announced a long time ago.”
Still, CNN didn’t believe that as it cited “a confidential UN report in June, obtained by CNN described the Wagner fighters as “an effective force multiplier.”
Notably, Turkey also doesn’t plan to go anywhere.
It’s not hiding the fact that it wants a permanent presence, posting images of its military giving the GNA “Base Defence Training”.
“It’s a comprehensive effort,” said an anonymous US official. “They’re constructing facilities, bringing in personnel and equipment. They’ve got the HAWK air defense missile batteries, 3D [KALAKAN] radar.”
There is no evidence of any presence from the mythical “Wagner PMC” in this area and also there is also no evidence that any Russians are actually building the trenches there, and it is not simply the LNA preparing for a temporary situation, as it said itself.
“Russian policy in Libya is opaque — what Russia wants to do. From evidence on the ground, it sounds like they want to consolidate their influence, or want to find a way out,” Gazini was cited by CNN.
Still, the unnamed US official, said that the Russian build-up amounted now to significant personnel and advanced equipment, but one that presented ethical concerns. “Fourth generation fighter jets and Pantsir missile systems are being operated by a less capable, poorly-trained Wagner mercenaries,” the official said.
“There are complex challenges in Libya, including al Qaeda and ISIS, and mercenaries with their poor level of training, experience, and lack of respect for human rights and international law, make those weapons systems in those hands the most concerning.”
Finally, an anonymous “Western Diplomat” also said that Haftar wished for a prolonged conflict in Libya, to preserve his “relevance.”
“He becomes irrelevant overnight if the conflict finishes,” said the diplomat. “And it if does not finish on his terms he becomes vulnerable to war crimes allegations etcetera.”
The CNN report is entirely based on several satellite images that show that there are, in fact, trenches and fortifications. The LNA said they were temporary, but of course they would. Then all citations, apart from an individual who is part of the International Crisis Group, are of entirely anonymous sources.
The main goal of such articles is to paint the Russians and the LNA (which is in fact mostly backed up by the UAE and Egypt) as the destabilizing force in Libya. So more such ‘investigations’ are expected to come.
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