Russia appears to be sending more military equipment to its mercenaries in Libya, including the flashpoint city of Sirte, in breach of an arms embargo, the US military said on 24 July.
Its Africa Command said there was mounting evidence from satellite pictures of Moscow’s military cargo planes, including Il-76s, bringing supplies to fighters from the Russian Wagner Group.
Both sides have been mobilising forces around Sirte where any major new escalation could risk drawing major regional powers further into Libya’s messy conflict.
The Tripoli-based, internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) is backed by Turkey. The eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) are backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
“The type and volume of equipment demonstrate an intent toward sustained offensive combat action capabilities,” the Africa Command said in a statement posted on its website.
“It is assessed that the Russian Federation continues to violate UN Security Council Resolution UNSCR 1970 by actively providing military equipment and fighters to the front lines of the Libya conflict,” Africom said.
“As Africom has documented in a series of media releases, the US assesses that Russia supplied Wagner forces operating in Libya with fighter aircraft, military armoured vehicles, air defence systems, and supplies, further complicating the situation and increasing the risk for miscalculation leading to continued and needless violence in Libya.”
“Imagery reflects the broad scope of Russian involvement,” said US Army Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, Africom deputy director of intelligence. “They continue to look to attempt to gain a foothold in Libya.”
The latest imagery details the extent of equipment being supplied to Wagner, Africom said. Russian military cargo aircraft, including IL-76s, continue to supply Wagner fighters. Russian air defence 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, ambushprotected armoured vehicles are also present in Libya.
In May, US Africa Command reported at least 14 Mig-29s and Su-24s had been flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their origin. The aircraft were then flown into Libya. “US Africa Command assesses that the warplanes are being actively flown in Libyan airspace,” the command said.
Africom previously provided photographic evidence that Wagner has laid landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in civilian areas in and around Tripoli.
Both Russia and its LNA ally have denied previous US military statements that Moscow has sent fighter jets to back Wagner forces there.
The GNA earlier this year pushed the LNA from most territory it held in northwest Libya, including in Tripoli, destroying several Russian air defence systems.
However, the LNA stopped retreating at the central coastal city of Sirte, which it took from the GNA in January, and the front line has solidified there.