Russia sends fighter jets to Libya to back mercenaries: US

Russia recently sent fighter jets to to support Russian mercenaries fighting for strongman in the long-running conflict, the US military said on Tuesday. The warplanes left Russia and first stopped in Syria, where they "were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin" before arriving in Libya, said the US military command for Africa (Africom) in a statement.

The US on Wednesday said more than a dozen newly unmarked Russian aircraft were delivered to an airbase in Libya to support warlord Khalifa Haftar.

"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," US Africom said on Twitter.

"They are flown by Russian military members & escorted by Russian fighters based in Syria to , landing in Eastern Libya near Tobruk for fuel. At least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft are then delivered to Al Jufra Air Base in Libya," it added.

The tweet by the US military came a day after it claimed Russia recently deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for Haftar against the UN-recognized, legitimate government of Libya.

"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," Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of US Africa Command, said Tuesday in a statement.

"For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now," Townsend added.

Since April 2019, separatist warlord Haftar's forces have launched attacks on the Libyan capital of Tripoli and other parts of northwestern Libya, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political agreement.

Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said more than 2,000 Russian Wagner Group mercenaries were fighting in the war-ravaged country.

US commanders also said Europe faces security risks and a migration crisis because of Russian involvement in Libya.

"If Russia seizes basing on Libya's coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities," said Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.

"If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe's southern flank," he said.

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