The United States has renewed its accusations that the Russian government is deploying fighter jets in Libya in support of eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
In a statement on Thursday, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) alleged Russia was using jets it had recently sent to the North African country to support private military contractors working with Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.
AFRICOM said it had photographic evidence of a Russian aircraft taking off from Jufra in central Libya, and that a MiG-29 was photographed operating in the vicinity of the coastal city of Sirte.
There was no immediate comment by Russian officials.
The AFRICOM statement came weeks after it said in late May that Russia had flown at least 14 MiG-29s and several Su-24s to Libya via Syria, where its forces support President Bashar al-Assad. At the time, a member of the defence committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament had dismissed the allegation as “fake” news.
NEWS: New evidence of Russian aircraft active in Libyan airspace (1 of 3)
"#Russia's sustained involvement in #Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution." – BG Gering, director of operations
Photos: https://t.co/ftYyEeX1GQ pic.twitter.com/G34ILYIJvM
— US AFRICOM (@USAfricaCommand) June 18, 2020
“There is concern these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state PMC [private military companies] mercenaries who will not adhere to international law; namely, they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict,” said Bradford Gering, AFRICOM’s 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,” he said.
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 Haftar.
The LNA has retreated eastwards in recent weeks after a 14-month offensive on the capital, Tripoli, though it is holding the line around Sirte and still controls Jufra airbase.
Libya’s conflict has seen growing involvement by foreign powers that have poured weapons into the country in violation of a United Nations arms embargo.
Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have backed the LNA, while GNA forces are supported by Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday said his country would increase its cooperation with the US in Libya.
“We received instructions to work together … [which] is important for the stability of the region and future of Libya,” Cavusoglu said during a webinar with the US-based Turkish American National Steering Committee.
“We would like to further expand our areas of cooperation,” he added.
Cavusoglu’s remarks came a day after GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj welcomed him in Tripoli, alongside Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.
Last November, Turkey and Libya signed two agreements relating to enhanced military cooperation and maritime border demarcation in the resource-abundant eastern Mediterranean.