Posted tagged ‘Russia – Libya’

Russian elite units land on Egypt-Libya border

March 14, 2017

Russian elite units land on Egypt-Libya border, DEBKAfile, March 14, 2017

General 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 and 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.

New Putin move to win a military base in Libya

November 28, 2016

New Putin move to win a military base in Libya, DEBKAfile, November 28, 2016

General Khalifa Haftar speaks during a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi. May 17, 2014. The self-declared Libyan National Army led by a renegade general told civilians on Saturday to leave parts of Benghazi before it launched a fresh attack on Islamist militants, a day after dozens were killed in the worst clashes in the city for months. Families could be seen packing up and driving away from western districts of the port city where Islamist militants and LNA forces led by retired General Haftar fought for hours on Friday, killing at least 43 people. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori (LIBYA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS)

General Khalifa Haftar speaks during a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi. May 17, 2014.

It is too soon to say whether the Russian leader’s Libya initiative betokens an invitation to the new US president to work together in the Middle East, or he is cashing in on an uncertain transition period between the presidencies to build up a stack of chips ready to face Trump as a rival power.

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Libyan Gen Khalifa Hafter arrived in Moscow Sunday, Nov. 26, with a request for Russian arms and military support for his army. He was welcomed in Moscow, which saw an opening for Russia to gain its first military base in North Africa. According to DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources, President Vladimir Putin began to envision a second Mediterranean base on the coast of Benghazi, twin to Hmeimim in Syria’s Latakia. This one would accommodate Russian naval as well as air units and be located 700km from Europe.

The US-born Hafter, a general in the army of the late Muammar Qaddafi, carries the title of supreme commander of the Libyan army. However, Libya is today riddled with hundreds of militias vying for control. Haftar heads a powerful group that was once backed by the United States. But since refusing to recognize the government established by the UN in Tripoli, he relies mainly on the support of Egypt and some of the Gulf emirates for his eastern Libyan Benghazi stronghold.

Egypt and the UAE provide Hafter’s army with air support from Egyptian bases in the Western Desert. It was their leaders who urged him to accept the Russian invitation to Moscow and bid for military assistance.

This was Hafter’s second trip to Moscow. He was there in June and met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and National Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev. Then, the Kremlin was wary of extending military aid to the maverick Libyan general.  US, Italian and British special forces were at the time pressing a major offensive to drive ISIS out of the key Libyan port of Sirte. However, this offensive has still not achieved its goal.

russianbaseslibya480

Donald Trump’s election as US president is already causing seismic rumbles in the region. Putin is now offering Hafter’s army jet fighters attack helicopters, armored vehicles and assorted missiles as well as air support for fighting the Islamic State.

It is too soon to say whether the Russian leader’s Libya initiative betokens an invitation to the new US president to work together in the Middle East, or he is cashing in on an uncertain transition period between the presidencies to build up a stack of chips ready to face Trump as a rival power.

At all events, Russian planes in Hmeimim are capable of covering the 1,500km distance to Libya, while the Russian carrier Admiral Kusnetzev is anchored not far away, off Syria’s Mediterranean shore. Both are therefore available for operations in support of the Libyan general.

This would be the first time a Russian aircraft carrier went into action in this part of the Mediterranean.

The battles ongoing along the Mediterranean coast his week among the various militias, including Hafter’s army, are in fact a tug-o’-war for control of Libya’s oil fields. Libya’s oil riches are certainly not absent from Putin’s calculations. Moscow’s assistance in helping his Libyan visitor gain the upper hand in this struggle could augur the first Russian stake in the Libyan oil industry.

US-Russian marines set up bridgehead in E. Libya for campaign against ISIS

January 24, 2016

US-Russian marines set up bridgehead in E. Libya for campaign against ISIS, DEBKAfile, January 23, 2016

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President Barack Obama resolved earlier this month, much to the surprise of Washington insiders, to open a third anti-terror front in Libya to eradicate the Islamic Front’s tightening grip on the country.

This top-secret decision was first revealed by DEBKA Weekly 692 on Jan. 1.

While collaborating with Russia in the Syrian arena, and with the Iranians and the Iraqi army and Sunnis in Iraq, Obama took his close aides by surprise by another decision – to lead the Libya campaign again in conjunction with Russia, as well as with concerned Western Europe allies.

The first step in this campaign took place this weekend: A group of US, Russian, French and Italian Special Forces quietly landed at a point south of Tobruk near the Libyan-Egyptian frontier. Standing by after preparing the ground were some 1,000 British SAS troops.

The landing area is located some 144 kilometers from Darnah, the main bastion of extremist Libyan Islamic groups linked to Al Qaeda or ISIS, of which the ultra-violent Ansar al Sharia is the most powerful.

The joint US-Russian war offensive building up in Libya, the first such collaboration in many decades, may be seen as an extension of their expanding military partnership in Syria, DEBKAfile’s military sources report.
Preparations for the campaign were assigned to two special operational commands set up at the Pentagon and at the US Central Command, CENTCOM, in Tampa, Florida.

According to the scenario sketched in advance by DEBKA Weekly, large-scale US air, naval and ground units are to spearhead the new coalition’s combined assault on the main Libyan redoubts of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia and other radical Islamist organizations. Cruise missiles strikes will blast them from US, British, French and Italian warships on the Mediterranean.

At the peak of the assault, large-scale US, British and French marines will land on shore for an operation first billed as the largest allied war landing since the 1952 Korean War. The attachment of Russian forces was negotiated later.

According to this scenario, one group will be dropped ashore from the Gulf of Sidra (see attached map) to seize the town of Sirte, a city of 50,000, where ISIS has located its central military command center in Libya.

This group will then split up into two task forces.

One will head south to take over Tripoli and its oil fields 370 kilometers away and reinstate Libya’s central government, which had been exiled to Tobruk, at its seat in the capital.

On its way to Tripoli, the force will take control of three renegade towns: Misrata, Zliten and Khoms.

The second task force will head north to capture the eastern Libyan capital of Benghazi, seizing Ras Lanuf, 200 kilometers east of Sirte, en route. A second marine force will meanwhile land in eastern Libya to capture the radical Islamist stronghold of Darnah, a port city with 150,000 inhabitants.

The Obama administration will therefore be going into Libya for the second time in four years – only this time up front and on the ground – for three objectives:

1. Control of Libya’s oil and gas fields.

2. Stripping ISIS of its jumping-off base for terrorizing Europe, especially Italy, from across the Mediterranean.

3. Saving Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco from the noose ISIS and Al Qaeda are pulling around them from their back yard.

The scenario was first published in DEBKA Weekly 692 (for subscribers) on Jan. 1, 2016