The long-running Libyan war 2.0 which has seen Gen. Khalifa Haftar lay siege to the capital of Tripoli throughout all of last year just grew hotter, now confirmed as a full-blown proxy conflict.
On Thursday the United States charged the Kremlin with illegally sending large numbers of Russian mercenaries to Libya in order to bolster Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA) offensive. Further, the US claimed Russia is working with Syria's Bashar al-Assad to facilitate the transfers.
The top US administration envoy to Syria and Turkey, Jim Jeffrey, U.S. special envoy for Syria, told reporters this week: “We know that, certainly the Russians are working with Assad to transfer militia fighters, possibly third country, possibly Syrian, to Libya, as well as equipment.”
At the same time US officials downplayed any links with Haftar, long said to be the "CIA's man in Libya", after Trump administration officials met with Haftar's political team last November, and further after the US president himself personally thanked the Benghazi-based strongman of "securing Libya's oil":
“The United States does not support LNA military action against Tripoli. ... The attack on the capital diverts resources from what is a priority for us, which is counterterrorism,” Henry Wooster, deputy assistant secretary at State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said on a conference call, referring to Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
Last year it was widely reported that a private security firm with close ties to Putin, called Wagner Group, sent up to 1200 Russian mercenaries to fight alongside Haftar's forces.
Haftar's backers, most especially his strongest state supporter the UAE, see him as Libya's only hope for national unity and stability after Gaddafi's overthrow and death during the US-NATO military intervention in the Arab North African country.
Wagner, shadowy Russian military group, 'fighting in Libya' https://t.co/fZ0hiUO3qc— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) May 7, 2020
The State Department official further underscored Washington's condemnation of growing Haftar-Assad ties: “There is a very troubling other element here and that is ... Haftar’s establishment of so-called diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, which is very much a part of the piece of the question of Syrian mercenaries, at least on his side of the equation,” Wooster said.
Further troubling is that on the other side of the Libyan war is the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, which has seen huge support from Turkey in the form of drones, troops, Syrian jihadist mercenaries, and even naval support.
It's an increasingly messy situation, with oil also at stake, with overlapping and confused interests. At this point it appears Washington itself is still working out where it officially stands regarding the 'renegade general' Haftar.