Russia has deployed fighter jets to Libya to support opposition forces fighting in the country, the US has confirmed.
Satellite images show a Russian Mig-29 on an airfield southwest of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
It’s believed they were providing air support to forces led by General Haftar in their fight against the internationally recognised Government of National Accord.
Haftar’s forces, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), are being supported by The Wagner Group, a Russian-backed mercenary outfit that gives Moscow plausible deniability.
Although the images have been circling for days, the US has now confirmed it is confident the jet is Russian and can only have come on the orders of Moscow.
Commander of US Africa Command General Stephen Townsend claims the jet flew via Syria, where it was re-painted to disguise its origin.
“For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict,” he said.
“Well, there is no denying it now.
“We watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya, every step of the way.
“Neither the LNA nor private military companies can arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support – support they are getting from Russia.
“The world heard Mr Haftar declare he was about to unleash a new air campaign. That will be Russian mercenary pilots flying Russian-supplied aircraft to bomb Libyans.”
The Libyan Civil War is a bitter conflict between two sides: the Government of National Accord, which is internationally recognised by the UN and controls Tripoli and the city of Misrata – and the LNA, which is commanded by General Haftar and runs Benghazi and much of the oil-rich east.
It’s not just Russia supporting General Haftar – Egypt and the UAE have also sent support.
However, The Wagner Group was forced into an embarrassing retreat from the outskirts of Tripoli in recent days after they came under attack from Turkish warplanes deployed to support the national government.
Around 1,500 soldiers were reportedly filmed fleeing through the desert and separate accounts suggest some were airlifted out of the country.
Russia’s reasons for becoming involved in another bitter civil war, this time in Libya, are unclear.
But one explanation could be an attempt to establish another Mediterranean base, close to southern Europe, as a transit point for its ships coming through the Mediterranean.
By supporting President Assad’s forces, Moscow has successfully built a naval and air force base on the Syrian coast in the eastern Mediterranean, reducing the vulnerability of its Black Sea ports.
In recent years, most NATO countries have refused Russian ships entry to resupply in Mediterranean ports, making it much harder for Russian ships to sail south from northern bases. A port on the Libyan coast would correct this.
Russia could also position advanced anti-aircraft systems in Libya, which would provide a security challenge to NATO.
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