US accuses Russian mercenaries of planting land mines in Libya

US accuses Russian mercenaries of planting land mines in Libya
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The Pentagon on Wednesday accused Russian mercenaries in Libya of planting land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in and around Tripoli, the war-torn country’s capital.

“Verified photographic evidence shows indiscriminately placed booby-traps and minefields around the outskirts of Tripoli” to roughly 285 miles east to the coastal town of Sirte since mid-June, U.S. Africa Command (Africom) said in a statement.

“These weapons are assessed to have been introduced into Libya by the Wagner Group,” a private military company backed by the Russian government, Africom added.

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The Pentagon provided several photos of IEDs and concealed anti-personnel mines said to be found in residential parts of Tripoli.

The announcement from the Defense Department comes in the wake of a firestorm in Washington over intelligence that a unit in Russia’s military intelligence agency offered payments to Taliban-linked militants to incentivize the killing of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE has denied he was briefed on the matter months ago, but the White House has sidestepped questions about whether the information was included in the President's Daily Brief.

The U.S. is worried Russia is tightening its grip on Libya, with Washington earlier this year accusing Moscow of trying to bolster Kremlin mercenaries fighting in support of rebel commander Khalifa Haftar. Russia transferred aircraft to the North African nation in May.

Africom said that at least 14 Mig-29s with their Russian markings painted over were flown from Russia into Syria and then Libya, a violation of the United Nations arms embargo.

Russia has repeatedly denied any military involvement in Libya, which has been entrenched in civil war since NATO-backed forces overthrew Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

“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,” Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, Africom’s director of intelligence, said in a statement Wednesday.

Marine Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering, director of operations at Africom, said 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.”