US seeks to expel Wagner Group from Sudan and Libya

Russian paramilitary organisation designated as 'significant transnational criminal organisation' by Washington

Washington is pressuring its Middle East allies to push the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary, out of Sudan and Libya. EPA
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The US has stepped up pressure on its Middle East allies to expel the Wagner Group — a military contractor owned by an oligarch with close ties to Russia’s President — from chaos-stricken Libya and Sudan, where it has expanded in recent years, regional officials told The Associated Press.

The US effort described by officials comes as President Joe Biden's administration is making a broad push against the mercenaries. The US has slapped new sanctions on the Wagner Group in recent months over its expanding role in Russia's war in Ukraine.

The group does not announce its operations, but its presence is known from reports on the ground and other evidence.

In Sudan, it was originally associated with former strongman Omar Al Bashir and now works with the military leaders who replaced him. In Libya, it is associated with eastern Libya-based military commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Wagner has sent thousands of operatives to African and Middle East countries including Mali, Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Syria.

“Wagner tends to target countries with natural resources that can be used for Moscow’s objectives -— gold mines in Sudan, for example, where the resulting gold can be sold in ways that circumvent Western sanctions,” said Catrina Doxsee, an expert on Wagner at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The group’s role in Libya and Sudan was central to talks between CIA Director William Burns and officials in Egypt and Libya in January. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also discussed the group with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in a late-January trip to Cairo, Egyptian officials said.

The group and Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin have been under US sanctions since 2017, and the Biden administration in December announced new export restrictions on its access to technology and supplies, designating it as a “significant transnational criminal organisation”.


Wagner started operating in Sudan in 2017, providing military training to intelligence and special forces, and to the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, according to Sudanese officials and documents shared with the AP.

Wagner mercenaries are not operating in a combat role in Sudan, officials said. The group, which has dozens of operatives in the country, provides military and intelligence training, as well as surveillance and protection of sites and top officials.

The US is making efforts to convince power brokers in Libya and Sudan to expel the Russian private military company Wagner, regional officials tell The Associated Press. AP

Sudanese military leaders appear to have given Wagner control of gold mines in return. The documents show the group has received mining rights through front companies with ties to Sudan’s powerful military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Two companies have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for acting as fronts for Wagner’s mining activities.

The main camp of Wagner mercenaries is in the contested village of Am Dafok on the border between the Central African Republic and Sudan, according to the Darfur Bar Association, a legal group that focuses on human rights.


In Libya, Mr Burns held talks in Tripoli with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, head of one of Libya's two rival governments.

The CIA director also met with Mr Haftar in eastern Libya, according to Libyan officials.

UN experts said Wagner mercenaries have been present Libya since 2018, helping Mr Haftar's forces in their fight against Islamist militants in the east. The group was also involved in his failed offensive on Tripoli in April 2019.

CIA Director Bill Burns held talks in Tripoli as the US is pressuring allies in the region to expel the Wagner Group from Sudan and Libya. Reuters

Since the 2020 ceasefire, Wagner's activities have centred around oil facilities in central Libya, and they have continued providing military training to Mr Haftar's forces, Libyan officials said. It is not clear how many Wagner mercenaries are still in Libya.

US officials have demanded that mercenaries be pulled out of oil facilities, another Libyan official said.

Mr Haftar did not offer any commitments, but asked for assurances that Turkey and the militias it backed in western Libya would not attack his forces in the coastal city of Sirte and other areas in the central part of the country.

Egypt, which has close ties with Mr Haftar, has demanded that Wagner not be stationed close to its borders.

There is no evidence yet that the Biden administration’s pressure has yielded results in either Sudan or Libya, observers said.

Updated: February 03, 2023, 7:06 PM