Foreign Policy has reported that the United Arab Emirates is apparently helping to finance the Russian mercenary group (Wagner) in Libya, according to a report issued last week by the Pentagon’s Inspector General for counterterrorism operations in Africa.
The report by the US website says that this finding which is likely to complicate the United States’ close relationship with the UAE, saying that experts have long suspected that the UAE may be using Russian private military contractors to help obfuscate its role in the conflict, but the report is the first public, official assessment of the arrangement.
“Military officials have been increasingly candid in their assessments of the Wagner group’s destabilizing role in Libya, amid concerns that the Kremlin may use the conflict to establish a military foothold off of Europe’s southern shores.” The report indicated.
In July, the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) accused the group of indiscriminately laying landmines around Tripoli and putting the lives of civilians in jeopardy.
This revelation saying those Russian mercenaries may have been bankrolled by one of America’s closest military allies in the Middle East further complicates the calculus for Washington, and comes as Democrats in Congress have been mounting a campaign to oppose the Trump administration’s proposed $23 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi.
“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold a closed hearing on the arms sale early Monday evening.” Foreign Policy explained.
It added that the cautious wording in the Inspector General report that “The DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] assessed that the United Arab Emirates may provide some financing for the group’s operations” is likely a reflection of the political sensitivities involved.
The Trump administration has long been reluctant to call out US partners in the Gulf, including the UAE, despite allegations of human rights abuses in the conflict in Yemen, and Trump has gone as far as to say that the US has no interests in Libya.
“I would imagine DIA has some good information on the UAE’s support to Wagner,” said Douglas Wise, who served as deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2014 to 2016.
“Having DIA issue this would be an easy and less formal and embarrassing way to chide the UAE on their behavior than a diplomatic note or a press release from DoD or the White House. It lets the UAE know that we know,” he added.
Foreign Policy said that throughout 2020, experts tracking the conflict in Libya have noted patterns that would indicate closer ties between the UAE and Russia.
“In January, there was a drastic increase in Russian and Emirati cargo planes–likely laden with weapons and ammunition–flying to eastern Libya and western Egypt. Like Russia, the UAE supports Haftar, who was once a CIA asset and for years lived in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.” The report explained.
“The increased Russian presence in Libya has also coincided with Emirati drawdowns, further sparking suspicions. The UAE withdrew its equipment from the al-Khadim airbase near Benghazi and allowed Russian forces to take over the facility.” It remarked.
Foreign Policy indicated that while the US election was still up for grabs when the Pentagon first spotted Russian fighters in Libya in last May, the Trump administration’s departure makes it easier for the Pentagon to speak up now.