Private Russian military contractors have expanded their presence in Libya, bringing in additional aircraft and air defense systems, U.S. Africa Command alleges through newly released surveillance photographs.
The private Wagner Group has deployed to Libya to support military commander Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord. New photographs show Il-76 cargo aircraft, Su-24 Fencer fighter jets, SA-22 air defense systems, armored vehicles, and formations of personnel at Al Khadim Airfield.
This deployment is in addition to the May movement of Su-24s and MiG-29s to Al Jufra Airfield. These aircraft were reportedly repainted to hide Russian insignia before being escorted by Russian Su-35s to Libya, AFRICOM said at the time.
“Russia continues to play an unhelpful role in Libya by delivering supplies and equipment to the Wagner group,” U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, AFRICOM’s director of operations, said in a release.
The new collection of aircraft and equipment shows “an intent toward sustained offensive” combat, AFRICOM said.
The Wagner Group also is clandestinely supporting Russian interests elsewhere, including separatist operations in the Crimea region of Ukraine and in Syria.
U.S. officials have repeatedly warned about the expansion of Russian forces in Africa and its related impact on allies in southern Europe.
“If Russia seizes basing on Libya’s coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access, area-denial capabilities,” he said. “If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.”