WASHINGTON, D.C. — Russia’s involvement in war-ravaged Libya “is very concerning,” the top American commander in Africa told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Asked by Senate panel Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) about Russian interference in the North African nation, once considered an Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) hotbed, Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser (pictured), the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), testified, “It is very concerning.”
“Senator, 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 Gen. Waldhauser when questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “They’re working to influence that decision.”
Currently, the security situation in Libya is “very fractured,” declared Gen. Waldhauser.
He noted that, while various forces had pushed ISIS out of its coastal stronghold of Sirte, it is still a threat.
“The status of ISIS in Libya is they right now are regrouping. They’re in small numbers, small groups, we try to develop intelligence,” he testified. “But after they left Sirte, we developed intelligence, we bombed them on January 18 and they were in the southern part of Libya. They’ve scattered again now.”
The lack of a unified central government and the ongoing chaos in Libya still provides fertile ground for jihadist groups like ISIS or any other terrorist group to seek to flourish.
Gen. Waldhauser said:
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 Libya network and concurrently support Libya’s efforts to reestablish legitimate and unified government.
Chairman McCain added:
In Libya, the ISIS stronghold in Sirte has been degraded. But what remains is a divided nation littered with independent militias, flooded with arms and searching in vain for legitimate governance and political unity,” noted John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The top U.S. general in Africa acknowledged that high-ranking officials from both sides — those in favor and against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli — have visited Russia.
Former Gen. Khalifa Haftar, from the opposition, took a trip to Russia “on the carrier with the Russians. He’s also visited in the country of Russia. Also, this week it’s reported in the open press, [Prime Minister Fayez al-] Sarraj from the Government of National Accord has also visited Russia,” said Gen. Waldhauser.
Besides going after rival political factions in Benghazi since 2014, Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army has also fought ISIS.