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Libyan National Army Launches Assault on Jihadist Strongholds — But Moscow Denies Involvement

A Libyan military commander with ties to Moscow has launched an offensive against jihadist-held oil terminals — but Moscow denies any direct involvement

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

As expected, the Kremlin has slammed a Reuters report claiming that Russian Special Forces are stationed at an Egyptian airbase close to the border with Libya.

We have close to zero confidence in the famed "wire service", but at least from our perch here in Moscow, it seems like the Kremlin is pulling a fast one on us. 

<figcaption>Backed by Russia?</figcaption>
Backed by Russia?

Case in point: this happened about an hour ago

Forces loyal to Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar say they have launched an offensive to seize two key oil terminals in the country's east.

Ground, sea and air forces were fighting to retake sites at Ras Lanuf and Sidra from a rival Islamist militia, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Russia has denied reports that it has deployed special forces to the region in support of Gen Haftar.

That's a tough sell, Kremlin. A very tough sell. 

Libya is essentially a split, lawless nation, and Haftar is one of the few Libyan leaders who has been able to score major successes against the Islamic State and other extremists groups:

Gen Haftar's forces, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), have been battling Islamist and other militias in the area since forcing them out of much of the country's second city, Benghazi, in February 2016.


So it begins. But what role is Moscow playing? It's still unclear. 


It's funny that a French news agency calls Haftar a "strongman"; Le Monde claims he is receiving support from the French:

Further complicating the situation in Libya, Le Monde, a French newspaper, reported that French Special Forces have been actively engaged in covert operation against the Islamic State. The Huffington Post Arabic claims that the French forces are also supporting Gen. Haftar’s campaign against Islamists, but this statement is unconfirmed. Huffington Post Arabic is known to be pro-Muslim Brotherhood, and this would give them the motive to suggest any activity that could slow down Gen. Haftar’s push against Islamists.

France’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on the claims, but they will be launching an investigation into who leaked the information to Le Monde. The article also quoted a French Defense Official saying “The last thing to do would be to intervene in Libya. We must avoid any overt military engagement, but act discreetly.”

Will Libya become the next battleground between NATO and Russia? Or will Washington seek cooperation with Moscow in trying to bring stability back to a country that was once the wealthiest, most stable nation in North Africa?

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