Gen. Khalifa Haftar
Russian elite units armed with attack drones were detected on Tuesday, March 14 landing at the big Egyptian air base of Sidi Barrani in the Western Desert near the Libyan border, US military sources reported The incoming Russian troops took up position 95 km from the Libyan border and 240km from the eastern Libyan oil and gas terminals at Tobruk port in eastern Libya. They arrived after their Libyan ally suffered a major defeat.
On March 3, Gen. Khalifa Hafter’s Libyan National Army (LNA) militia was attacked in the central region by the rival Benghazi Defense Brigades and driven out of five towns, including the country’s biggest oil terminals at Ras Sidi and Ras Lanuf.
Officials in Washington, Moscow and Cairo declined to comment on whether or not the Russians had acted in coordination the Trump administration.
According to debkafile’s military sources, the Russians an Egyptians appear to be preparing to support a counter-offensive by Hafter’s militia to recover the oil facilities.
For some months now, Moscow, Cairo and Qatar have been working together to bolster Gen. Haftar, who strongly challenges the UN-backed government of Tripoli. His LNA has taken delivery of Russian fighter jets and tanks, while the Egyptian air force has bombed the mostly Islamist militias fighting him, some of them branches of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.
Although Haftar’s troops are engaged in battle with rival militias across a broad swathe of territory, from Sirte in central Libya to Tobruk in the east, his main objective is to seize control of the oil and gas fields and refineries in the eastern ports.
For President Vladimir Putin, support for Gen, Hafter is a key step in Russia’s military and strategic reach for footholds across the Middle East. He has chosen Tobruk as the next Russian air and naval base in the Mediterranean as a counterpoint to Latakia in Syria. Hafter’s LNA will provide protection.
debkafile first picked up on this development three months ago, when our military sources spotted the Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov leaving Syrian waters and heading west. The carrier sailed into Tobruk port on Jan. 12. Gen. Hafter was invited on board for a tour of the ship’s facilities and connected to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in his Moscow office for a videotaped chat. This was an exceptional gesture on Moscow’s part in support of a controversial Middle East figure.
More recently, the Libyan general visited Cairo to discuss the details of cooperation between the Egyptian army and the LNA with President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi.