US reveals new evidence of Russian aircraft in Libya


Russian aircraft delivered to Libya in late May are being actively flown in the North African country, the US military has said, citing new evidence.

“These Russian aircraft are being used to support private military companies (PMCs) sponsored by the Russian government,” US Africa Command (Africom) said on June 18, adding it has photographic evidence of a Russian aircraft taking off from al-Jufra, Libya. A MiG-29 was also photographed operating in the vicinity of the city of Sirte, Libya.

Sirte and Jufra are on the dividing line between areas in western Libya controlled by groups loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern areas controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

“Russia’s sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution,” said US Marine Corps Brigadier General Bradford Gering, Africom director of operations. “Russia continues to push for a strategic foothold on NATO’s southern flank and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan lives.”

In late May, Africom reported that at least 14 MiG-29s and several Su-24s were flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their Russian origin. These aircraft were then flown into Libya in direct violation of the United Nations arms embargo.

“We know these fighters were not already in Libya and being repaired,” said Colonel Chris Karns, director of US Africom public affairs. “Clearly, they came from Russia. They didn’t come from any other country.”

“Russia’s introduction of manned, armed attack aircraft into Libya changes the nature of the current conflict and intensifies the potential of risk to all Libyans, especially innocent civilians,” Africom said.

“There is concern these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state PMC mercenaries who will not adhere to international law; namely, they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict,” Gering said. “If this is true and bombing occurs, innocent Libyan lives are at risk.”

Russian government backed PMCs, such as the Wagner Group, are active in sixteen countries across Africa, the US military said, estimating that there are about 2 000 Wagner Group personnel in Libya.

Libya’s conflict has seen growing involvement by foreign powers that have poured weapons into the country in violation of a UN arms embargo.

Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have backed the LNA, while GNA forces are supported by Turkey.