- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Pentagon on Wednesday said it has “clear evidence” that Russian-backed mercenaries in Libya have used landmines, IEDs and other booby traps in and around the country’s capital of Tripoli, violating international law and putting innocent civilian lives in danger.

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, U.S. Africa Command released photos of the Russian devices, which were discovered over the past month in Tripoli, Sirte, and surrounding areas. The U.S. military specifically singled out the Wagner Group — a Russian paramilitary organization estimated to have as many as 2,000 fighters inside Libya — as being responsible and said the actions are further violations of United Nations regulations limiting the movement of arms into Libya.

Pentagon officials blasted Russian political leadership for prolonging the bloodshed inside Libya, which remains locked in a civil war between rebel forces and a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.

“The Russian-state sponsored Wagner Group is demonstrating a total disregard for the safety and security of Libyans,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering, director of operations for U.S. Africa Command. “The Wagner Group’s irresponsible tactics are prolonging conflict and are responsible for the needless suffering and the deaths of innocent civilians. Russia has the power to stop them, just not the will.”

The latest accusations against Russia come less than two months after the Pentagon said that Moscow had moved fighter jets into Libya. Taken together, the actions demonstrate Moscow’s clear intention to deepen its involvement in the conflict.

Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are backing Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in the war, while Turkey is allied with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord forces.

The U.S. also formally backs the Government of National Accord, though the Trump administration’s policy has been murky at best, and President Trump last year had a cordial phone call with Gen. Haftar, raising questions about American allegiance.

The two sides continue trying to hash out a sweeping ceasefire agreement.

As the conflict plays out, American military officials said Russian-backed fighters must stop putting civilian lives in jeopardy.

“Our intelligence reflects continued and unhelpful involvement by Russia and the Wagner Group,” said Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, AFRICOM’s director of intelligence. “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.

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