Russian fighter jet flights in Libya raise US concern

Russian fighter jet flights in Libya raise US concern
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The U.S. government is worried Russia is tightening its grip in Libya after fighter jets from Moscow, transferred last month, are now being flown in the north African country in support of Russian mercenaries, a top general said Thursday.

U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa head Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian told reporters that the Russian aircraft, the numbers of which are in the “upper teens” in Libya, could signal “a significant security concern” to Europe and Libyans.

The United States has observed that the jets are largely being used to work on basic pilot skills, but Harrigian noted that inexperienced airmen raise alarms as they could inadvertently kill civilians when flying.

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“This naturally, in my mind, raises some concerns, particularly when you talk about civilian casualties and what that could mean, particularly when you’re looking at areas where there’s city populations — it’s a small, constrained environment to operate in,” he said.

The U.S. accused Russia of trying to bolster Russian mercenaries fighting in support of rebel commander Khalifa Haftar when in late May, Moscow transferred MiG-29s, MiG 23s and Su-24s aircraft to Libya.

The planes are actively flown in the country, which the Pentagon says is in support of private military companies, particularly Wagner Group, that is sponsored by the Russian government, U.S. Africa Command said in a statement earlier on Thursday.

"Russia's sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford Gering, Africom director of operations, said in the statement. "Russia continues to push for a strategic foothold on NATO's southern flank, and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan lives."

Satellite imagery released alongside the statement showed what Africom said were the Russian aircraft at a base in Libya.

“We know these fighters were not already in Libya and being repaired,” Africom spokesman Col. Chris Karns said in the statement. “Clearly, they came from Russia. They didn’t come from any other country.”

Libya has been entrenched in civil war since NATO-backed forces overthrew Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Haftar recently intensified the conflict when he launched an offensive to take Tripoli in April 2019.