Russia deployed aircraft to boost pro-Haftar mercenaries in Libya: US military

Russia deployed aircraft to boost pro-Haftar mercenaries in Libya: US military
US Africa Command has claimed that Moscow sent aircraft directly from Russia to aid pro-Haftar mercenaries.
2 min read
Government forces have scored a series of victories over Haftar in recent days [Getty]

Russian fighter aircraft were deployed to Libya to aid Moscow's mercenaries who are supporting rogue general Khalifa Haftar in the North Africa state, US military heads said on Tuesday.

"US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there," US Africa Command said in a statement.

"Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the [Haftar-led militia] Libyan National Army's (LNA) fight against the internationally recognised Government of National Accord," the statement added.

Moscow is a major backer of Haftar, who since April 2019 has attempted to seize control of Libya's capital, Tripoli, from government control.

In its statement on Tuesday, the US said Russian fighter aircraft landed in Libya from Russia, "after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin".

"Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favour in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner," US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, US Africa Command, said in the statement. 

"For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now," Townsend said. 

Foreign involvement

With Russian and UAE backing, Haftar's LNA had until recently managed to gain a foothold in Libya's capital, however, pro-government forces in recent days have seized back control of several areas.

Turkey, which backs the GNA, has taken credit for the reversal, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was saying that his country had "changed the balance" in Libya.

On Monday, a confidential UN report revealed that at least eight countries countries collaborated in a special mission, code named Project Opus, to block Turkish weapons shipments to Libya.

The 80-page report, relayed from the German Press Agency (dpa) by DW Turkish, said the operation was directed from the UAE, with involvement from citizens of Australia, France, Malta, South Africa, the UK and US.

The UAE has itself been accused of sending arms to Libya, including sophisticated Israeli air defence systems to counter Turkish drones.

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