Trench across Libya shows mercenaries may not leave

Construction on a trench along Libya’s frontline by Kremlin-linked mercenaries is raising concerns that foreign fighters may not comply with a ceasefire agreement and leave the war-torn country, CNN reported on Friday.

Open-source monitoring has mapped a series of more than 30 defensive positions dug into the desert and hillsides that stretch for about 73 kilometres, according to CNN. The trenchline stretches south from the strategic port city of Sirte towards the Al-Jufra oil region, a stronghold of the Wagner Group mercenaries, CNN said.

The Turkey-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, supported by Russia, signed a U.N.-brokered ceasefire deal in October, which envisions a political roadmap leading to national elections and all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libyan soil by Jan. 23.

The trench indicates that Wagner is “settling for the long haul” in Libya, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN. The private military company has 2,000 foreign mercenaries, the largest global presence in the country, they said.

The United States does not see any “intent or movement by either Turkish or Russian forces to abide by the U.N.-brokered agreement,” the official said. “This has the potential to derail an already fragile peace process and ceasefire. It will be a really difficult year ahead."

Although Wagner’s presence and trench seems to convey an advantage for the LNA, they seem more geared to Moscow's agenda than supporting the eastern rebel forces, analysts cited by CNN said.

Discussion of the trench "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," Claudia Gazzini, from the International Crisis Group, told CNN.

There are repeated reports that both sides continued to maintain and expand a presence of foreign mercenaries, with the GNA also accused of boosting its supplies of military equipment through its defence agreement with Turkey, she said.

Turkey appears to be preparing for a permanent presence, CNN said, citing satellite imagery and images of its military posted online.

“It's a comprehensive effort,” the U.S. official said. “They're constructing facilities, bringing in personnel and equipment. They've got the HAWK air defense missile batteries, 3D (KALAKAN) radar.”