Russia deploys forces near Libyan border: report

Russia deploys forces near Libyan border: report
© Getty Images

Russia has reportedly deployed special forces to an Egyptian base near the Libyan border, in what could be a move to gain influence in Libya's tumultuous politics.

The move, which happened in recent days, adds to U.S. concerns about Russia's growing role in Libya, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing U.S., Egyptian and diplomatic sources.  

U.S. officials told Reuters the United States observed what seem to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, Egypt, about 60 miles from the Libyan border.

ADVERTISEMENT

Egyptian security sources, meanwhile, said the deployment involves a 22-member Russian special forces unit. They added that Russia flew about six military units in February to another Egyptian base farther east in Marsa Matrouh, according to Reuters.

Any Russian involvement is suspected to be on behalf of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a opponent of Libya's U.N.-backed government. A former military official in Moammar Gadhafi's government who later went into exile in Virginia, Haftar returned to Libya in 2011 during its civil war. Since then he's become a major political and military player in the chaotic post-Gadhafi fighting.

Haftar has also sought to improve his relations with Russia. He met with Russia's foreign minister in November, and toured a Russian aircraft carrier in January.

The Pentagon declined to comment to Reuters, while the Russian defense ministry did not respond. An Egyptian army spokesman denied that any Russian troops were in the country.

U.S. leaders are concerned with Russia's intentions in Libya, an oil-rich country.

Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the U.S. commander of Africom, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Russia was trying to exert influence in Libya to strengthen its clout over whoever will gain power.

Waldhauser said “it is not” in U.S. interest to let that happen.

Asked by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPost peace talks, Afghan elections are the best way forward Trump walks tightrope on gun control Pompeo doubles down on blaming Iran for oil attacks: 'This was a state-on-state act of war' MORE (R-S.C.) whether Russia was trying to do in Libya what it did in Syria, Waldhauser said: "Yes, that's a good way to characterize it."

Russia claims its main goal in the Middle East is to contain the spread of violent Islamist groups.

Reuters reported it could not independently verify any presence of Russian special forces and drones or military aircraft in Egypt.