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US says Russian military supplying more weapons and Vagner Group fighters to Libya

Russian fighter jets were recently deployed to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there. The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin. (U.S. Africa Command/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. military has accused Russia of supplying more offensive weapons and fighters to Libya in an attempt gain a foothold in the North African country.

U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) latest accusation against Russia on July 24 comes as Libya’s rival camps face off in a potentially bloody battle over the strategic central coastal city of Sirte.

The Pentagon released photos it said showed Russia continues to provide supplies and equipment to the Vagner group, a Russian private military company.

It said Russian military cargo aircraft are supplying Vagner fighters and their proxies with air-defense equipment, trucks, armored vehicles, and fighter jets.

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“The type and volume of equipment demonstrates an intent toward sustained offensive combat action capabilities, not humanitarian relief, and indicates the Russian Ministry of Defense is supporting these operations,” General Gregory Hadfield, AFRICOM deputy director of intelligence, said in a statement.

The U.S. military has previously accused Moscow of deploying fighter jets to Libya and earlier this month said the Vagner Group had laid land mines and improvised explosive devices in and around the capital, Tripoli.

Russia is using the Vagner group “as a proxy in Libya to establish a long-term presence on the Mediterranean Sea,” AFRICOM said.

Russia, mostly through the Vagner Group, has been helping Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east of the country in their fight against the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. France, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates also back Haftar’s forces.

Turkey, which has deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy. Ankara’s intervention in Libya in January turned the tide of the war by rolling back Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli.

Turkey and Russia, the main external power brokers in Libya, have been seeking an elusive cease-fire.

In an escalation, Egypt’s parliament this week approved a direct troop intervention in Libya if Turkey-backed forces from Tripoli advance on Sirte.

A battle over Sirte threatens to unleash direct conflict between Turkey, a NATO member, and U.S. allies in the region.

The United States supports a cease-fire, paving the way for a political solution in the country.

Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.