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U.S. Commander Says Russians Looking To Expand Influence In Libya

  • RFE/RL

The chief of the U.S. military’s Africa Command says Russia is attempting to expand its influence in Libya, something the United States is watching with "great concern."

General Thomas Waldhauser on March 24 said Russia was "on the ground" in the border area between Egypt and Libya and was using military means, weapon sales, and oil to expand its influence in the country.

"They are trying to influence the action -- we watch what they do with great concern," Waldhauser told a news conference. "They are on the ground.”

Earlier this month, AFP and Reuters reported that Russia had deployed forces to a base in western Egypt about 100 kilometers from the border with Libya.

Russia denied the reports.

A wide variety of forces have been vying for power since the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Waldhauser said there was an "undeniable" link between the Russians and powerful Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar.

"Well, I think it is common knowledge, certainly in the open press, the Russians and their desire to influence the activities inside in Libya... the Russians and Haftar, I think that linkage is undeniable at this point in time," Waldhauser said.

The United States has sent special forces and military advisers to the country over the past two years to battle militants from the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Waldhauser said the United States, which helped government forces drive IS fighters out of the coastal town of Sirte in 2016, still had some troops in Libya to "develop intelligence and take out targets when they arise."

He said the United States would be willing to keep the forces in place to work with the Libyan government deal with the 100-200 IS militants remaining in the country.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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