Russian fighter jets mercenaries are flying in Libya are partaking in floor strikes and fight actions, U.S. Africa Command says.
In accordance with Navy Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, AFRICOM’s director of intelligence, there are at the very least 14 Russian fighter plane which might be primarily based out of Al Jufra and Al Khadim airfields in Libya.
“They’re, we assess, being operated by Wagner Group,” Berg instructed reporters Friday. “These fighters are partaking in fight actions. We have now seen them conduct floor strikes and conduct fight actions in nation. So they don’t seem to be there for coaching the Libyan Nationwide Military, they’re not there to easily help the LNA. They’re there to conduct fight actions on behalf of their very own nationwide pursuits.”
“We additionally know they’re not that good,” Berg mentioned, citing that one Mig-29 plane crashed in June adopted by one other on Sept. 7.
The Wagner Group — a personal navy firm that U.S. officers have warned has shut ties to the Kremlin and is headed by a former Russian intelligence officer — helps the Libyan Nationwide Military that’s going up towards the United Nations-backed Authorities of Nationwide Accord.
In Could, AFRICOM announced Russia had deployed MiG-29 and Su-24 plane to Al Jufra Airfield in Libya and that the plane have been anticipated to help Wagner Group mercenaries. The command mentioned that the plane touched down in Syria and have been repainted to obscure their Russian ties earlier than finally touchdown in Libya.
“Russia is clearly attempting to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Identical to I noticed them doing in Syria, they’re increasing their navy footprint in Africa utilizing government-supported mercenary teams like Wagner,” AFRICOM commander Military Gen. Stephen Townsend mentioned in Could.
Russia rejected AFRICOM’s claims and former Russian Air Pressure chief and present member of parliament Viktor Bondarev described the assertion as “loopy” in a press release in Could. He additionally mentioned “if there are any airplanes in Libya, they’re Soviet, not Russian.”
However AFRICOM deputy director for intelligence Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield mentioned the plane weren’t ones already in Libya’s stock and have been not too long ago flown to Libya.
“So we’re assured that these plane weren’t there, and weren’t older plane that had been maintained,” Hadfield instructed reporters in Could.
“Russia is executing the identical playbook because it efficiently employed in Crimea, Ukraine and to a lesser extent in Syria,” Hadfield mentioned. “Russia has proved its willingness to violate the sovereignty of these nations, and seems keen to do the identical in Africa.”
Extra not too long ago, AFRICOM asserted in July that the Wagner Group planted landmines and improvised explosive units from the outskirts of Tripoli to Sirte beginning in mid-June. AFRICOM claimed it believes the weapons originated from the Wagner Group.
Roughly 3,000 Wagner Group mercenaries are in Libya and the group has recruited roughly 2,000 Syrian mercenaries to function in help of the LNA, Berg mentioned Friday. Conversely, Turkey has dispatched roughly 5,000 Syrian mercenaries to problem the LNA, in line with a latest Department of Defense Inspector General report.
The U.S. stored a small variety of troops in Libya beginning in 2011 after the removing of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to again native forces countering Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked militants there.
However in April 2019, U.S. troops have been faraway from Libya as a result of heightened unrest when the LNA led by Area Marshal Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive towards the GNA in Tripoli.
Hifter was a former CIA asset who was exiled throughout Gadhafi’s management. Earlier than returning to Libya in 2011, he obtained U.S. citizenship whereas he lived in Virginia within the Nineties.
Nevertheless, his offensive was quashed in June and he retreated from Tripoli after Turkish-backed forces made progress preventing the LNA.
AFRICOM instructed Navy Occasions in Could that U.S. troops haven’t returned to Libya since they exited in 2019. Roughly 6,000 Division of Protection personnel are on the African continent.