Russia has deployed military forces to Libya that are “de-stabilizing” the North African country, a top State Department official warned.
David Schenker, the State Department’s assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, told reporters that Russia is deploying troops in “significant” numbers to support Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army launched an April offensive to seize Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
US officials have previously told CNN that they believe hundreds of Russian mercenaries affiliated with the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization with ties to the Kremlin, have been in Libya for some time, working on behalf of Moscow and helping Haftar in his bid to capture Tripoli, however Schenker said that Russia is now deploying regular uniformed personnel there as well.
The US military believes that Russian mercenaries backing Haftar may have been responsible for downing a US military drone Thursday while it was flying over Tripoli last week, two US defense officials told CNN.
A third official said forces aligned with Haftar were responsible for bringing down the aircraft but said it was unclear whether Russian contractors were responsible. The official said that Haftar’s representatives have apologized for the downing of the drone.