Politics, Middle East, Africa

Libya's warlord uses gangs-for-hire, rogue mercenaries

Military leaders sought on charges of war crimes, militia groups accused of genocide fighting on Khalifa Haftar's side

Mustafa Dalaa and Enes Canli  | 05.02.2020 - Update : 05.02.2020
Libya's warlord uses gangs-for-hire, rogue mercenaries


Libya's putschist commander Khalifa Haftar has dragged the country into a spiral of violence with his spiteful intention to capture the capital Tripoli.

He makes up for lack of fighters by recruiting members from radical militias and criminal mercenaries in the region in the 10-month-long war that has marred the country.

These forces include groups led by military commanders who are sought by arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court, militias who have been accused of genocide, and rogue mercenaries.

Haftar gradually expanded the area under his occupation every year following the coup attempt in 2014, taking advantage of the political vacuum in the country.

After the southern regions that Haftar captured at the beginning of the year, only the capital Tripoli remained safe from his advances.

Standing out as the most crucial piece of land in Libya, the Tripoli region hosts two-thirds of the country's population and this is where diplomatic representations and independent government institutions are located.

Haftar's militia unit 'Libyan National Army'

Haftar calls the group he leads as the "Libyan National Army" and wants to be treated like an official army. In fact, Haftar's armed force works like a "dealership" and tries to gather militias under one roof.

A large number of militias from Libyan tribes in the east and west have joined the ranks. Others who have joined the putschist commander include members from the public committees established by former ruler Muammar Gaddafi, the extremist Madkhali Salafists, Janjaweed militias of Sudan -- who have a very controversial history in Sudan -- the rebels in Chad, Russian mercenaries, and military officers from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.

It is claimed that the force comprises 25,000-30,000 militias, including trained military personnel of 7,000. The Brigade 106, the largest and best armed among them, is commanded by Saddam Haftar, his son.

The rallying cry for the brigade is Khamis, the name of one of the son's of Gaddafi.

Other troops of Haftar's amalgam of militias are as follows:

1- Madkhali Salafists

Madkhali Salafists have extreme opinions but advocate the view that the rulers should be obeyed. They consider Saudi Arabia as their ruler so the fight for Haftar, who is backed by Riyadh.

Emrah Kekili, a researcher, told Anadolu Agency: "Madkhali Salafists are a bigger threat to Libya than Daesh due to their belief, organization and command center."

Nidaa Battalion

Nida Battalion, the most prominent among Salafist movements, is commanded by Mahmoud al-Wirfalli who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over committing war crimes. Haftar announced in July that he promoted Wirfalli from the so-called major to lieutenant colonel.

Wirfalli is accused of executing 10 blindfolded people in Benghazi capturing the entire act on video footage.

Salafist Tawheed Union

Salafist Tawheed Union is headed by Ashraf al-Miyar who participated in the uprising against Gaddafi.

They are of the view that those who oppose Haftar are "heretics and it is permissible to shed their blood".

Sabil al-Salam units

Sabil al-Salam units operate in the south-east of the country and are commanded by Abdel-Rahman al-Kilani.

Al-Qaniyat units

Al-Qaniyat units, located in Tarhuna city, 90 kilometers (56 miles) from south-east of the capital, are under the control of Qani brothers. The vast majority of the Al-Qaniyat units are former soldiers of Gaddafi's army.

These units perviously worked for Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, but they were cast aside due to their links to Haftar.

They leaked information to Haftar's forces and made the occupation of some neighborhoods south of the capital possible.

Gaddafi’s regime troops

After the fall of Gaddafi regime in 2011, Haftar struggled to gather the troops. Fighters from Muhammad al-Muqri, Khamis brigade, 32. Brigade joined Haftar with advanced ammunition.

Among them, a prominent unit is Mohammed bin Nail, which is located in the south-west Brak al-Shati military base, where the Al Muqaraha tribe lived. Haftar gave the control of Sabha and strategic Jufra airbase to this group.

Abdul-Salam al-Hassi, who came from the Hasse tribe in the east, was appointed as the commander of the operation at the beginning of the Tripoli operation by Haftar. However, after the strategic city of Garyan was lost in June, it was reported that Hassi was recalled by Haftar.

Mabrouk al-Sabhan, who was assigned to take back the city of Garyan, is believed to be from the Al Muqaraha tribe and is a Gaddafi supporter.

Al Muaqaraha and Qadhadhfa tribes were the most privileged tribes in the army during the Gaddafi era.

Brigade Tarhuna 22 includes elite troops especially from the Gaddafi army. Haftar was united with Terhune 7th Brigade at the beginning of Tripoli attack and named the 9th Brigade under the command of Abdul Wahab al-Maqri. Maqri, Abdelaziz and Mohsen Qani brothers lost their lives in an attack by Libya's GNA forces.

Sahwa units consist of an armed structure organized in the form of public committees during the Gaddafi era.

The Sahwa units -- supporting the putschist general inside the city -- changed the balance with a surprise move, while The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries surrounded Benina airbase and Al rajma military airbase.

Tribal fighters

Some tribes in the east of the country are cooperating with Haftar. Other supporters include the Haftar tribe whose members are in Sirte in the north, Tarhune in the west and Ajdabiya in the east.

Another prominent tribe is the Obeidat tribe which supports Haftar. Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the pro-Haftar House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk, belongs to this tribe.

Haftar militias inflict cruel punishments on tribes who oppose them. The black Toubou tribe, located from the south of Libya to Chad, was subjected to extrajudicial executions by Haftar militias. At least 45 people died as a result of the Haftar's airstrike on a Toubou tribal meeting in Murzuk in August 2019.


As Haftar expanded his occupation in eastern Libya, he needed manpower to control these lands. This need reached critical levels with his attack on Tripoli and therefore he brokered agreements with different mercenaries, with financial support from his allies.

Also, reportedly the military officials from Egypt, the UAE and France provided tactical advice to the Haftar troops on the ground. The prominent foreign mercenaries in the ranks of Haftar are listed as follows:

- According to the reports of the UN, approximately 700 members of the Chad rebel armed groups serve Haftar in Libya.

- Sudan Liberation Army: About 500 militias from two separate groups operating in Darfur in the west of Sudan are in the ranks of Haftar.

- Sudanese Janjaweed militias: Nearly 1,000 of the Janjaweed militias, armed by the Rapid Support Force, led by Muhammad Hamdan Duklu, protect the critical Al Jufra Airbase in the attacks against the capital, according to UN reports. Some leaders of Janjaweed militias are wanted by International Criminal Court for their activities in Darfur. According to international media reports, the number of Sudanese militias fighting in the ranks of Haftar has recently increased to 3,000.

- Russia’s Wagner Group is one of the most controversial groups among the mercenaries. It is owned by to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Bloomberg, it was reported that the Wagner Group, where approximately 1,400 militias came to Libya, brought 25 Russian pilots who carried out training activities for the Haftar troops, and Russian Sukhoi-22 type war planes are seen in Libyan skies.

Mercenaries who previously had field experience in Ukraine, are fighting on the frontline in Libya, according to Euronews.

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