US photos show Russia allegedly sneaking warplanes into Libya to support its mercenaries and 'tip the scales' in the civil war

A Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum spotted at Al Jufra Airfield in LibyaAFRICOM
  • The US accused Russia on Tuesday of sending fighter jets into Libya to provide support for its mercenary forces and "tip the scales" in the ongoing civil war.
  • "For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now," US Africa Command's Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement on the secretive deployment, which the US documented with photos.
  • The Libyan National Army is fighting to take the capital and defeat the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli. It recently threatened to launch the "largest aerial campaign in Libyan history."

The US accused Russia on Tuesday of sending military aircraft into Libya recently to support Russian mercenary forces and to "tip the scales" in the ongoing civil war, presenting imagery of alleged Russian activity.

US Africa Command said Russia likely sent fighter jets in to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC, a Russian state-sponsored mercenary group supporting Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army's fight against the country's internationally-recognized government.

The ongoing civil war in Libya is a bloody fight for total control of a long-divided country primarily between the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and Haftar's forces, which are supported by Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, in Benghazi.Advertisement

Last year, Haftar's LNA began trying to seize the capital, but it has so far been unsuccessful. With Turkish assistance, the GNA has been able to drive back the LNA in recent weeks.

A UN report on the conflict in Libya from earlier this month determined that there may be as many as 1,200 Russian mercenary forces in country. Russia denied the report's findings. The LNA has also denied the presence of foreign fighters among its forces.

A Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum spotted at Al Jufra Airfield in LibyaAFRICOM
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As has been the case in other civil wars, the use of mercenary forces in Libya gives Russia the ability to deny direct involvement in the conflict while advancing its own interests.

AFRICOM commander US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said that "Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor 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." "For too long," he added, "Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now."Advertisement

A Russian fighter jet deployed to LibyaAFRICOM

He said that the US tracked Russia flying fourth-generation fighter jets into Libya, and watched "every step of the way." The fighters departed from an airbase in Russia, transited through Syria, and then entered war-torn Libya after the military aircraft were repainted to "camouflage their Russian origin," AFRICOM said.

Townsend explained that neither the LNA nor the Russian mercenary forces could "arm, operate and sustain these fighters" alone, indicating that they are receiving direct support from Russia.Advertisement

A Russian fighter jet deployed to LibyaAFRICOM

Last week, the LNA announced that it planned to launch the "largest aerial campaign in Libyan history" to turn the tide after a series of setbacks in its war against the Government of National Accord. "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," Townsend said.

The US has pressed for de-escalation, characterizing the conflict as an unnecessary distraction. "The United States does not support LNA military action against Tripoli," Henry Wooster, deputy assistant secretary at State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said earlier this month.Advertisement

He said "the attack on the capital diverts resources from what is a priority for us, which is counterterrorism."

Commenting on Russian activities, US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander US Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian suggested Tuesday that Russia might be interested in securing basing on Libya's coast, a development that could eventually pose a greater threat for Europe.

"Russia is not interested in what is best for the Libyan people but is working to achieve their own strategic goals instead," AFRICOM said Tuesday.Advertisement

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