Report: US believes Russia’s troops, mercenaries are behind instability in Libya
Russia has deployed military forces to Libya that are destabilizing the country, a top State Department official warned Tuesday, according to the CNN.
David Schenker, the State Department’s assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, told reporters that Russia is deploying troops in “significant” numbers to support Khalifa Haftar, whose forces launched an April offensive to seize Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
US officials have previously told CNN that they believe hundreds of Russian mercenaries affiliated with the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization with ties to the Kremlin, have been in Libya for some time, working on behalf of Moscow and helping Haftar in his bid to capture Tripoli, however Schenker said that Russia is now deploying regular uniformed personnel there as well.
“Russian regulars are being deployed in significant numbers to support the LNA,” Schenker said, describing their presence as “incredibly destabilizing.”
The presence of the Russian troops “raises the specter of large-scale casualties among the civilian population,” Schenker added.
His comments come days after a senior US delegation met with Haftar on Sunday to “discuss steps to achieve a suspension of hostilities and a political resolution to the Libyan conflict,” according to a State Department statement issued Monday.
CNN said the US has become increasingly vocal about its opposition to Russia’s presence in Libya, believing Moscow is seeking to establish a position there in part to challenge NATO’s southern flank.
The US military believes that Russian mercenaries backing Haftar may have been responsible for downing a US military drone Thursday while it was flying over Tripoli last week, two US defense officials told CNN.
A third official said forces aligned with Haftar were responsible for bringing down the aircraft but said it was unclear whether Russian contractors were responsible. The official said that Haftar’s representatives have apologized for the downing of the drone.