Russia has deployed special forces to an Egyptian airbase near the Libyan border, according to reports. It's believed that Russian forces could be sent to Libya to support the Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar
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Libya is a safe haven for ISIS and other extremists groups — and Libyan military commanders are calling on Russia to help.
As Reuters reports (hat-tip to our friends at Al Masdar News):
Russia appears to have deployed special forces to an airbase in western Egypt near the border with Libya in recent days, U.S., Egyptian and diplomatic sources say, a move that would add to U.S. concerns about Moscow's deepening role in Libya.
The U.S. and diplomatic officials said any such Russian deployment might be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, who suffered a setback with an attack on March 3 by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) on oil ports controlled by his forces.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States has observed what appeared to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles (100 km) from the Egypt-Libya border.
Yes, it's Reuters quoting anonymous U.S. and Egyptian officials — basically the Holy Grail of fake news — but this actually sounds like a logical move on Moscow's part. So if it's not true, Russia should make it true.
Here's some background on Haftar from the fine folks at Strategic Culture Foundation:
In the 1970s, Haftar received military training in the Soviet Union. The general speaks Russian language. After the start of the uprising against Gaddafi in 2011, the general returned to Libya where he became a key commander of the makeshift rebel force in the east.
The military leader is known as an "anti-Islamist general" for his tough stand against Muslim fundamentalists. This year the forces under his command pushed the Islamist militants out of much of Benghazi. In 2014 General Halifa launched Operation Dignity and vowed to oust all extremist terrorist groups in the country. In September 2016, the LNA seized from the Petroleum Facilities Guard - an armed group aligned with the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) - the country’s key oil terminals.
Russian Special Forces being deployed to Egypt actually sounds completely plausible. Unlike the U.S., Russia enjoys good relations with Egypt – which is also a major backer of General Haftar.
As for Moscow "putting (special) boots on the ground" in Libya — this doesn't seem far-fetched.
According to reports, Russia already has "private" boots on the ground in Libya. Reuters reports:
A force of several dozen armed private security contractors from Russia operated until February in a part of Libya that is under Haftar's control, the head of the firm that hired the contractors told Reuters.
The top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, told the U.S. Senate last week that Russia was trying to exert influence in Libya to strengthen its leverage over whoever ultimately holds power.
"They're working to influence that," Waldhauser told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Asked whether it was in the U.S. interest to let that happen, Waldhauser said: "It is not."
Here's the thing: The U.S. has limited options when it comes to trying to curtail Moscow's influence in Libya.
Strategic Culture Foundation explains why:
The most important thing is that it is Russia - not the US, France or any other Western state involved in the Libya conflict - that the Libyan military leader has asked for help. Libyans remember well the NATO intervention of 2011 and don’t trust the West, especially in view of its failure to achieve any positive results in Syria. Russia’s operation in that country has changed the political landscape and strengthened Moscow’s standing among the region’s powers.
The request to help and intervene in Libya testifies to the fact that Russia’s clout is growing in the Middle East, while the West is displaying unwillingness to play a responsible role in the region. The operation in Syria was followed by a host of tangible Middle East policy successes.
Resurgent Russia is asserting itself in the Middle East as a big an important international player and it is only natural that its Moscow the Libyan leader approached to save his country mired in turmoil.
All the evidence points Moscow looking to counter Washington's growing presence in North Africa, which has had a disastrous effect on the entire region.
Russia also understands that it cannot allow Libya to become a staging area for terrorists hoping to fight in the Middle East or Central Asia.
The only question now is: How much is Russia willing to risk in order to ensure that the western-created mess in Libya is cleaned up?
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