The United States has accused the Russians of planting landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Libya. The U.S. stated that Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group were planting them in support of the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar.
The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), stated that they had verified photographic evidence that Wagner Group mercs “indiscriminately [have] placed booby traps and minefields” from areas outside of Tripoli to Sirte on the eastern coast since mid-June.
The Wagner Group is a private military company backed by the Russian government.
“These weapons are assessed to have been introduced into Libya by the Wagner Group,” AFRICOM added while displaying photos of both anti-personnel mines and IEDs found in residential neighborhoods in Tripoli.
AFRICOM’s Director of Operations, Marine MG Bradford Gering said that “the Russian-state sponsored Wagner Group is demonstrating a total disregard for the safety and security of Libyans.”
He added, “the Wagner Group’s irresponsible tactics are prolonging the conflict and are responsible for the needless suffering and the deaths of innocent civilians.”
Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, AFRICOM’s Intelligence Director added that “Imagery and intelligence assessments show how Russia continues to interfere in Libyan affairs. Wagner Group’s reckless use of landmines and booby traps are harming innocent civilians.”
Libya has been wracked by a bloody civil war since longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi was toppled from power and killed in 2011. The government in east Libya is supported by Russia, Egypt, and U.A.E. and allied with self-styled general Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). The Government of National Accord (GNA), which is supported by the United Nations, holds territory in the west including the capital Tripoli.
A long offensive by Haftar’s army brought his troops to the outskirts of Tripoli but the Tripoli government forces, backed by powerful Turkish airstrikes, pushed Haftar’s troops all the back to nearly where they began.
In May, the United States said that Russia, in violation of the United Nation arms embargo in Libya, imported 14 MiG-29 fighter aircraft into the country. It flew them from Russia to Syria and then into Libyan territory to bolster the forces of Haftar who had been pushed back to the east.
Russia, meanwhile, has denied having any military personnel in Libya. “Russia is not involved in any military activities in Libya and there is no data on any organized groups of Russian nationals there,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.
“The Russian military is not taking part in any processes in Libya,” Peskov said. “We are unaware of any organized Russian nationals, who could take part in them.” He also called the introduction of the MiG-29s disinformation.
Wagner’s troops are trained in Russia on a military base and flown on Russian military aircraft to their destinations. So the point that the government has “no data” on any organized groups of Russian nationals in Libya is dubious at best.
In the matter of the bounties supplied by Russian military intelligence (GRU) operatives, Peskov said the entire matter is an elaborate hoax.
“These claims are nothing but lies,” he said, about the story first posted by The New York Times. “Once again, we can only express regret that once largest, reputable and high-quality world media outlets have been increasingly more often publishing elaborate hoaxes in the last few years, which definitely does not bode well with keeping up with their reputation and prestige,” Peskov added.
“If intelligence services continue to be accountable before the president in the U.S., then I suggest you focus on the relevant statement of President Trump who already evaluated these publications,” he said.
With many in Washington upset with the recent flap over the Russians reportedly paying the Taliban a bounty on the killing of American troops in Afghanistan, this latest news is bound to create a strong reaction.