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Russia appears to deploy forces in Egypt, eyes on Libya role

19

This is Obama’s legacy. His precipitous and ill-thought-out withdrawal from Iraq led to the creation of ISIS. His support for the Muslim Brotherhood destabilized Egypt, leading to the downfall of Mubarak, the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood regime there and the present al-Sisi regime, leading to an Islamic reaction that allowed ISIS to gain strength in the Sinai. His takedown of Gaddafi led to the chaos in Libya. Now Russia is moving in. It would never have contemplated doing so were it not for the drastic weakening of America that Obama brought about.

“Exclusive: Russia appears to deploy forces in Egypt, eyes on Libya role – sources,” by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Lin Noueihed, Reuters, March 14, 2017:

(Reuters) – Russia appears to have deployed special forces to an airbase in western Egypt near the border with Libya in recent days, U.S., Egyptian and diplomatic sources say, a move that would add to U.S. concerns about Moscow’s deepening role in Libya.

The U.S. and diplomatic officials said any such Russian deployment might be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, who suffered a setback with an attack on March 3 by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) on oil ports controlled by his forces.

The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States has observed what appeared to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles (100 km) from the Egypt-Libya border.

Egyptian security sources offered more detail, describing a 22-member Russian special forces unit, but declined to discuss its mission. They added that Russia also used another Egyptian base farther east in Marsa Matrouh in early February.

The apparent Russian deployments have not been previously reported.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately provide comment on Monday and Egypt denied the presence of any Russian contingent on its soil.

“There is no foreign soldier from any foreign country on Egyptian soil. This is a matter of sovereignty,” Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said.

The U.S. military declined comment. U.S. intelligence on Russian military activities is often complicated by its use of contractors or forces without uniforms, officials say.

Russian military aircraft flew about six military units to Marsa Matrouh before the aircraft continued to Libya about 10 days later, the Egyptian sources said.

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

The top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, told the U.S. Senate last week that Russia was trying to exert influence in Libya to strengthen its leverage over whoever ultimately holds power.

“They’re working to influence that,” Waldhauser told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Asked whether it was in the U.S. interest to let that happen, Waldhauser said: “It is not.”

One U.S. intelligence official said Russia’s aim in Libya appeared to be an effort to “regain a toe-hold where the Soviet Union once had an ally in Gaddafi.”

“At the same time, as in Syria, they appear to be trying to limit their military involvement and apply enough to force some resolution but not enough to leave them owning the problem,” the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Russia’s courting of Haftar, who tends to brand his armed rivals as Islamist extremists and who some Libyans see as the strongman their country needs after years of instability, has prompted others to draw parallels with Syria, another longtime Soviet client.

Asked by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham whether Russia was trying to do in Libya what it did in Syria, Waldhauser said: “Yes, that’s a good way to characterize it.”

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia was looking to back Haftar, although its initial focus would likely be on Libya’s “oil crescent.”

“It is pretty clear the Egyptians are facilitating Russian engagement in Libya by allowing them to use these bases. There are supposedly training exercises taking place there at present,” the diplomat said.

Egypt has been trying to persuade the Russians to resume flights to Egypt, which have been suspended since a Russian plane carrying 224 people from the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh to St Petersburg was brought down by a bomb in October 2015. The attack was claimed by an Islamic State branch that operates out of northern Sinai.

Russia says that its primary objective in the Middle East is to contain the spread of violent Islamist groups….

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