U.S. Africa Command has discovered more Russian military equipment in Libya capable of assisting in operations against the U.S. and United Nations-backed Government of National Accord, officials said in a media release.
The latest overhead imagery details military cargo aircraft, air defense equipment, utility trucks, and mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicles provided to the Wagner Group — a private military company that U.S. officials have warned has close ties to the Kremlin and is headed by a former Russian intelligence officer.
Despite constant denials of involvement from Russia, officials believe the imagery reflects a broad scope of Russian involvement and attempts to gain a foothold in Libya — a violation of a UN arms embargo — according to a press release.
“Russian involvement is evident — which the Kremlin lies about every time they deny it,” said Col. Chris Karns, AFRICOM director of public affairs.
Libya was split into two governments after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gahafi who was later killed.
In the east stands a government allied with military commander Khalifa Hifter, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia — and in the west is one in Tripoli, supported by the UN.
The imagery, released July 24, shows Wagner forces and equipment on the front lines of the Libyan conflict in Sirte — where both sides in Libya’s civil war have been mobilizing to in previous weeks.
Hifter’s forces took over Sirte, Gadhafi’s birthplace and a former stronghold of the Islamic State, in January. Retaking Sirte would give Tripoli forces a chance to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Hifter had earlier seized.
“The type and volume of equipment demonstrates an intent toward sustained offensive combat action capabilities,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering, AFRICOM director of operations, “and indicates the Russian Ministry of Defense is supporting these operations.”
In May, AFRICOM reported at least 14 Mig-29 and Su-24 aircrafts had been flown from Russia into Syria and were repainted to conceal their Russian origin before continuing to Libya. They were expected to back the Wagner group in close-air support and offensive fires.
Most recently, AFRICOM accused Wagner forces of planting land mines and improvised explosive devices in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli. They said they imagery had shown booby traps and minefields around Tripoli and out towards the city of Sirte since mid-June.
“Russia continues to play an unhelpful role in Libya by delivering supplies and equipment to the Wagner group,” Gering said.