US says Russian mercenaries laid land mines in Libya

Campbell MacDiarmid
·2 min read
Russian mercenaries laid landmines and improvised explosive devices around the Libyan capital Tripoli, according to the US military - AFP
Russian mercenaries laid landmines and improvised explosive devices around the Libyan capital Tripoli, according to the US military - AFP

The US military on Wednesday accused Russian mercenaries supporting eastern Libyan forces of planting landmines around the capital Tripoli in contravention of a UN arms embargo on Libya, the latest sign of how foreign involvement is intensifying the conflict.

The US Africa Command said it had "verified photographic evidence show[ing] indiscriminately placed booby traps and minefields around the outskirts of Tripoli down to Sirte since mid-June," which it attributed to the Moscow-sponsored Wagner Group private military company.

"Imagery and intelligence assessments show how Russia continues to interfere in Libyan affairs. Wagner Group's reckless use of landmines and booby traps are harming innocent civilians," said Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, AFRICOM’s director of intelligence.

There was no immediate response from Moscow, which has repeatedly denied involvement in Libya, or Wagner Group, which AFRICOM says has 2,000 mercenaries in Libya. 

In May, Russia dismissed accusations by AFRICOM that it had deployed 14 Mig-29s fighters to Libya to support Russian mercenaries aiding eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The latest accusation came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump agreed during a phone call to work more closely to "promote lasting stability in Libya", according to the Turkish presidency.

Turkey and the US both support the UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli, while Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt support Haftar, who controls key Libyan oil facilities and says he is fighting "terrorism".

Turkey’s military support to the GNA enabled it to fend off Haftar’s 14-month offensive to seize Tripoli, which collapsed last month with his forces withdrawing from the outskirts of the capital.

Since then, both sides have been mobilising around the central coastal city of Sirte, the birthplace of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, whose death in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising unleashed years of chaos in the oil-rich country. 

Retaking Sirte would allow Tripoli forces to advance on Libya’s main oil fields, but last month Haftar's ally Egypt threatened to send troops if the strategic city was attacked.

On Monday, the eastern parliament aligned with Haftar said it would support an Egyptian intervention.

Libya and Egypt should work together, the Tobruk assembly said, "to guarantee the occupier's defeat and preserve our shared national security" in the face of "the dangers posed by the Turkish occupation".