The United States military has raised concerns that Russia’s Wagner Group is laying landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in and around Tripoli, complicating Libyan ceasefire efforts.
The US military’s Africa Command (Africom) on 15 July said it has clear evidence of this, which further violates the United Nations arms embargo and endangers the lives of innocent Libyans.
“Verified photographic evidence shows indiscriminately placed booby-traps and minefields around the outskirts of Tripoli down to Sirte since mid-June. These weapons are assessed to have been introduced into Libya by the Wagner Group,” Africom said.
“The Russian-state sponsored Wagner Group is demonstrating a total disregard for the safety and security of Libyans,” said US Marine Corps Major General Bradford Gering, director of operations, US Africa Command. “The Wagner Group’s irresponsible tactics are prolonging conflict and are responsible for the needless suffering and the deaths of innocent civilians. Russia has the power to stop them, just not the will.”
In late May, Africom reported that at least 14 Mig-29s had been flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their Russian origin. The aircraft were then flown into Libya, a violation of the United Nations arms embargo. “Africom assesses that the warplanes were being actively flown in Libyan airspace, further complicating the conflict in Libya and elevating the risk of miscalculation.”
Russia’s introduction of landmines, booby traps, attack aircraft, and their continued support of the 2,000-person strong Wagner Group in Libya changes the nature of the current conflict and intensifies the potential risk to non-combatants, Africom said.
“Our intelligence reflects continued and unhelpful involvement by Russia and the Wagner Group,” said Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, Africom’s director of intelligence. “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.”
Russia’s use of private military contractors in Libya is just part of a long history of using these non-state actors as tools of power projection. Russian-sponsored PMCs are active in sixteen countries across Africa, Africom said.