US Military Says Russia Deployed Fighter Jets to Libya
The US military said on Tuesday that Russia has deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for the Libyan National Army (LNA), adding to concerns of a new escalation in the conflict.
“Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fire,” the United States Africa command said in a statement it posted on its website and on Twitter.
The LNA, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive last year to seize the capital Tripoli.
However, in recent weeks the Government of National Accord (GNA) has with extensive Turkish backing pushed Haftar back from his foothold in southern Tripoli and from some other parts of the northwest.
The statement said the aircraft had arrived from an airbase in Russia after transiting via Syria, where they were repainted to conceal their Russian origin. There was no immediate response from the Russian Defense Ministry to a request for comment.
On Saturday, Russian fighters in Libya were flown out of a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies after retreating from frontlines in Tripoli, the town’s mayor said.
The LNA has denied any foreigners are fighting with it, but the United Nations said this month that Russian private military contractor Wagner Group had up to 1,200 people in Libya.
“Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions,” the US statement said.