CNN has reported that construction on an enormous trench across Libya, dug by Russian-backed mercenaries of Wagner Group, is raising fears that foreign fighters will not withdraw from the country by Saturday.
A ceasefire agreement signed in last October was brokered by the United Nations. The ceasefire meant to see all foreign forces leave the country by January 23, one of a number of confidence-building measures.
“The trench and fortifications appear designed to impede or stop a land attack on Khalifa Haftar’s controlled areas in the east, running through the populated coastal areas of Libya that have seen the most clashes since 2011” CNN said Friday.
US officials were reported by the CNN as being also concerned over the long-term goals of the Kremlin ally in Libya, as one intelligence official noted that the trench is a sign that Wagner Group, which has its largest global presence in Libya, is “settling in for the long haul.”
“The trench, which extends dozens of kilometers south from the populated coastal areas around Sirte towards the Wagner-controlled stronghold of Jufra, can be seen on satellite imagery and is bolstered by a series of elaborate fortifications.” CNN reported.
CNN also indicated that the US intelligence official said the trench is another reason they see no intent or movement by 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.” The US intelligence official warned.
“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 dug, also by Wagner mercenaries and their contractors.” CNN reported.
It added that images show a build-up of defenses around the Jufra airbase, and also the Brak airfield further south, where apparent radar defenses have been installed and fortified.
One of Haftar’s spokesmen, Khaled Al-Mahjoub, confirmed the existence of the trenches to CNN, yet he described them as “temporary” sand barriers and trenches, in an open area for defense and fighting.”
CNN said that Haftar’s spokesman denied the presence of 2,000 Wagner Group mercenaries, and said there were consultants, whose presence was announced a long time ago.
A Western diplomat told CNN that Haftar needed a continued conflict in Libya to maintain relevance, adding that the warlord “becomes irrelevant overnight if the conflict finishes,” and if it does not finish on his terms he becomes vulnerable to war crimes allegations.