Russian military personnel flew MiG 29 and SU-24 fighter planes to a Libyan airbase escorted by other aircraft, the US military said on Wednesday, detailing a deployment of airpower that could have a significant effect on Libya’s war.
Moscow backs the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar in its war against the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations and backed by Turkey. Libya is subject to a UN arms embargo.
On Tuesday, the US military’s Africa Command said it assessed that Russia had flown fighter jets to Libya, via Syria, to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA. It said the aircraft were repainted in Syria to remove the Russian Federation air force’s markings.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the US military added further details, saying the jets had been flown by Russian military personnel and were escorted to Libya by Russian fighter planes, indicating a higher level of involvement by Moscow.
They first landed in Tobruk, in eastern Libya, and then flew to Jufra in central Libya, an LNA stronghold, US Africa Command said. Fourteen newly unmarked Russian fighter jets were delivered to Jufra.
MORE: Over multiple days in May, Russian MiG 29s and SU-24 fighters departed Russia. At that time, all the aircraft have Russian Federation Air Force markings. After they land at Khmeimin Air Base in Syria, the MiG 29s are repainted and emerge with no national markings. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/ghgpKe9rDo
— US AFRICOM (@USAfricaCommand) May 27, 2020
LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari denied any new aircraft arrived in the country, calling it “media rumours and lies”. Last week, he said, the LNA repaired four old Libyan jets for use and announced the start of a significant new air campaign against the GNA.
A Russian member of parliament earlier on Wednesday said Moscow had not sent any military hardware to Libya and the upper house of parliament received no request to approve such a dispatch.
Haftar has suffered a series of military setbacks recently in his offensive to capture the capital, Tripoli. The Russian mercenaries fighting for the eastern commander who fled the front lines of the city’s suburbs were evacuated to a town further south, according to its mayor.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said on Wednesday that the situation in Libya was worrying, warning the “Syria scenario” was being replicated in the country.