Media reports indicate that Russian private military contractors (PMCs) supporting Libya National Army (LNA) forces withdrew from Tripoli on Sunday, May 24, after the group lost control of numerous areas around the city in recent days. Local officials reported that hundreds of Russian fighters withdrew to an airbase in the town of Bani Walid, around 145 km (90 mi) southeast of the capital, from where they were flown in military transport aircraft to the LNA-controlled central district of Jufra. A convoy of Russian PMC vehicles was also filmed driving south from Bani Walid.
The withdrawal of Russian fighters follows several days of territorial losses for LNA forces in and around Tripoli. The LNA announced that it was withdrawing from some areas in the south of the capital on Wednesday, May 20, as part of a unilateral ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday. However, the move, which was widely interpreted as a strategic retreat, saw forces aligned with Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) recapture the apparently vacated Salah Eddine, Ramla, and Almshrou districts. At least three Russian fighters were reportedly killed in clashes which erupted in Salah Eddine as GNA forces moved into the district on Friday, May 22.
Although LNA leaders have long denied that the group receives any direct support from foreign fighters, numerous journalists, monitoring groups, and local observers have documented Russian PMCs operating with the group in a combat role.
Further clashes remain likely over the medium term.
The LNA launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 in an attempt to unseat the internationally recognized GNA. Fighting between GNA and LNA forces has continued to flare up in the capital over the last year, with both sides conducting regular airstrikes. However, several attempts to impose a ceasefire between the groups have failed. The bulk of recent fighting has been concentrated in the southern suburbs of the capital.
Turkish-backed GNA forces have increasingly pushed back against the LNA around Tripoli since April. Having lost several strategic positions in recent weeks, the LNA's Eid-al-Fitr disengagement has been interpreted as an attempt by the group to consolidate their forces into more defendable positions around the capital so as to not lose their foothold in the region.
The security environment in Libya remains complex. Although travel is possible in some areas (with appropriate security protocols in place), other areas should be considered strictly off-limits. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to travel.
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