The United States military has said Russia appears to be sending more military equipment to its mercenaries in Libya, including in the flashpoint city of Sirte, in breach of an arms embargo.
The US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) said on Friday there was mounting evidence from satellite photos of Moscow’s military cargo planes, including IL-6s, bringing supplies to fighters from Russian private military contractor Wagner Group.
“Imagery reflects the broad scope of Russian involvement,” US Army Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, AFRICOM deputy director of intelligence, said in a statement posted on the military command’s website.
“They continue to look to attempt to gain a foothold in Libya.
“Russian air defense equipment, including SA-22s, are present in Libya and operated by Russia, the Wagner Group or their proxies. Photos also show Wagner utility trucks and Russian mine-resistant, ambush protected armored vehicles are also present in Libya … the type and volume of equipment demonstrate an intent toward sustained offensive combat action capabilities.”
Libya was plunged into chaos by the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
The oil-rich country has since been divided, with an internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) controlling the capital, Tripoli, and the northwest, while renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi control the east.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia, while the GNA is backed by Turkey.
In May, a leaked US report said Russian private military contractor Wagner Group deployed about 1,200 mercenaries to Libya to strengthen Haftar’s forces.
The 57-page report by independent sanctions monitors, submitted to the UN Security Council (UNSC) Libya sanctions committee, said Wagner deployed the mercenaries in specialised military tasks, including sniper teams.
The UN sanctions monitors identified more than two dozen flights between Russia and eastern Libya from August 2018 to August 2019 by civilian aircraft “strongly linked to, or owned by” Wagner Group or related companies.
The monitors also listed the details of 122 Wagner operatives of “whom many are highly probably operational, or have been operational, within Libya”.
Russia and the LNA have both denied previous US military statements that Moscow sent fighter jets to back Wagner forces in the North African country.
When asked in January if the Wagner Group was fighting in Libya, Russian President Vladimir Putin said if there were Russians in Libya, they were not representing the Russian state, nor were they paid by the state.
The AFRICOM claims come after a Wednesday meeting between Turkish and Russian delegations in Ankara to discuss Libya’s war.
The two sides agreed to press ahead with efforts for a lasting ceasefire in the country, according to Turkey’s foreign ministry.
A joint statement released after the meeting said the sides had agreed to work together and encourage Libya’s opposing factions to create “conditions for a lasting and sustainable ceasefire” and joint efforts to advance a political dialogue.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES