US slams Russian mercenary operations in Libya, says Moscow deployed military aircraft to aide Haftar
The US Aftica Command said on Tuesday that Russia deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for eastern forces, 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 statement said the aircraft had arrived from an airbase in Russia after transiting via Syria, where they were repainted to conceal their Russian origin.
On Saturday, Russian fighters in Libya were flown out of a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies, Khalifa Haftar’s forces, after retreating from frontlines in Tripoli, the town’s mayor said.
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.
AFRICOM quoted US Air Force General Jeff Harrigian as warning that if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it would “create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank”.
The statement said neither the LNA nor mercenaries would be able to “arm, operate and sustain these fighters” — meaning fighter aircraft — without the support they had from Russia.
Last week Haftar’s forces announced they would be launching a major new air campaign against the GNA and said it had refurbished four war jets.