The outgoing commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) General Stephen J. Townsend revealed that Russia has withdrawn some of the Wagner Group's resources from Libya and sent them to Ukraine, while it is working to strengthen its "proxy" presence in Mali.
Townsend told journalists on a July 26 media call from AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany that "Wagner is a Russian mercenary group working at the behest of the Kremlin.”
“Though the Kremlin likes to deny it publicly, they are an arm of the Kremlin, and they are doing President Putin’s bidding,” Townsend said. “The only thing I see Wagner doing is propping up dictators and exploiting natural resources on the continent.”
Russia was previously estimated to have 2,000 Wagner Group fighters in Libya but according to Townsend, Russia has pulled back some of its manpower in Libya due to the Ukraine war. He added that 1,000 remain deployed to Mali, plus a “substantial” number are in the Central African Republic and elsewhere on the continent.
“So far, they do not appear to be drawing down in Mali,” Townsend said. “In fact, they appear to be leaning into Mali as much as they have been throughout. In fact, they’ve deployed sophisticated new capabilities like air defense capabilities to Mali that we have seen appear there recently.”
“In light of the continued expansion of terrorists, irregular changes of government in the region, arrival of malign groups like the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, and recalibration by other partners such as France, and others, the United States is also recalibrating our approach,” Townsend said. “We’re striving to find a way to become more effective in the future.”