Moscow has recently dispatched an estimated 22-member special forces unit to a base in western Egypt on the country’s border with Libya, a move that can exacerbate the ongoing U.S. concerns about Russia’s interference there, reports Reuters.
Unnamed Egyptian sources noted that, in February, Russia used a base in Egypt, in the east in Marsa Matrouh.
Citing American, Egyptian, and diplomatic sources, Reuters reports:
[A]ny such Russian deployment might be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, who suffered a setback with an attack on March 3 by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) on oil ports controlled by his forces.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States has observed what appeared to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles (100 km) from the Egypt-Libya border.
Reuters’ report comes a few days after Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. commander in Africa, warned lawmakers that Russia’s involvement in Libya “is very concerning.”
“Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who becomes, and what entity becomes, in charge of the government inside Libya,” added the top general who serves as commander of U.S. African Command (AFRICOM). “They’re working to influence that decision.”
“It is pretty clear the Egyptians are facilitating Russian engagement in Libya by allowing them to use these bases. There are supposedly training exercises taking place there at present,” a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Reuters reports that the Kremlin’s defense ministry has declined to provide details on Kremlin’s incursion into Egypt, denying the presence of any Russian troops on Egyptian soil.
“The instability in Libya and North Africa caused by years of political infighting may be the most significant near-term threat to the U.S. and allies’ interests on the continent. Stability in Libya is a long term proposition. We must maintain pressure on the ISIS [Islamic State] Libya network and concurrently support Libya’s efforts to reestablish legitimate and unified government,” proclaimed the AFRICOM commander when testifying before lawmakers
Reuters concedes it “could not independently verify any presence of Russian special forces and drones or military aircraft in Egypt.”
“There is no foreign soldier from any foreign country on Egyptian soil. This is a matter of sovereignty,” declared an Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai.