US may send troops to Tunisia over Russian campaign to destabilise region: AFRICOM
Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations of involvement in the Libyan civil war, stressing that it wants to see a diplomatic settlement in the war-torn country, and recalling that it was a NATO military intervention in the country in 2011 which turned Libya into a failed state.
The United States may send a brigade of troops for training purposes to Tunisia to counter the alleged ‘Russian threat’ to regional security, US African Command (AFRICOM) announced, citing a May 28 telephone conversation between AFRICOM Commander Gen. Stephen Townsend and Tunisian Defence Minister Imed Hazgui.
“As Russia continues to fan the flames of the Libyan conflict, regional security in North Africa is a heightened concern. We’re looking at new ways to address mutual security concerns with Tunisia, including the use of our Security Force Assistance Brigade,” Townsend said, his comments appearing in an AFRICOM press statement late Friday.
“Tunisia is a prime example of how US support to our African partners aids long-term self-sufficiency, security and development. Our relationship with Tunisia is centered on enhancing our partnership to achieve mutual security goals,” the general added.
Townsend’s remarks were echoed Friday by AFRICOM deputy director for intelligence Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield, who accused Russia of “executing the same playbook” in Libya as it supposedly had earlier in Ukraine and Syria to “violate sovereign nations” and destabilize them for the sake of gaining a foothold.
Russian officials have vocally denied US claims of illegal Russian intervention in the Libyan civil conflict. On Wednesday, Senate State Defence Committee chairman Viktor Bondarev dismissed AFRICOM’s allegations this week about the deployment of as many as “14 Russian MiG-29s” to the Libyan National Army as “nonsense.”
“The MiG-29 is undoubtedly one of the best frontline fighters created by the Soviet aircraft industry. It’s easy to fly, simple to operate and very reliable. But to suggest that one could use a few MiG-29s to capture Libya’s coast is nonsense,” Bondarev said. He added that Libya and other African countries have had access to MiG-29s since the 1980s. “Therefore, if Libya has these planes, they are not Russian, but Soviet,” he stressed.
Andrei Krasov, first deputy chairman of the Duma’s Defence Committee, added that “Russia’s position is well known; we are in favour of ending the bloodshed in Libya, we urge all parties to the conflict to refrain from using weapons and sit at the negotiating table.” According to Krasnov, AFRICOM’s claims about ‘Russian planes’ do “not correspond with reality.”
On Tuesday, the Libyan National Army similarly dismissed AFRICOM’s allegations, calling them “strange” amid the US’s failure to “mention the interference and expansion of Turkey in our country and the transfer of tens of thousands of mercenaries from Turkey.”
Turkey began sending troops to Libya in January to shore up the US and UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in its ongoing campaign against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, which pledges its allegiance to the Tobruk-based government.
Civil War in Libya
The chaos in Libya began in 2011 with the overthrow of long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was publicly tortured and murdered by rebels backed by NATO airpower. After that, the once-prosperous North African nation became a failed state, with millions fleeing the country or becoming internally displaced and tens of thousands killed and maimed over years of fighting.
Fighting between the GNA-LNA began in the years that followed after the two forces began wresting control over areas of Libya from among dozens of militias, terrorist groups and criminal gangs operating in the war-torn country. In April 2019, the LNA began an offensive on Tripoli. Several international efforts to resolve the conflict have so far proven fruitless, with a peace conference organized in Berlin in January by Russia, the US, the EU, Turkey, Egypt and other countries ending in failure.