US military believes unarmed drone shot down by Russian defenses near Libyan capital

US military believes unarmed drone shot down by Russian defenses near Libyan capital
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U.S. military officials believe that the unmanned American drone that went missing near Libya's capital late last month was shot down by Russian air defenses.

Reuters reported Saturday that U.S. Africa Command, led by U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, is demanding that the wreckage of the drone be returned to the U.S.

Townsend told the outlet in a statement that he believes the Russian air defense operators “didn’t know it was a U.S. remotely piloted aircraft when they fired on it."

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“But they certainly know who it belongs to now and they are refusing to return it," he continued. "They say they don’t know where it is but I am not buying it." 

Africa Command spokesman Air Force Col. Christopher Karns told Reuters that a U.S. assessment of the event concludes that either Russian forces or Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army were controlling the air defenses at the time of the crash on Nov. 21.

Haftar is embroiled in Libya's civil war and there have been reports that Russian mercenaries have been providing muscle to Haftar's cause, the wire service noted.

An adviser for U.S. affairs in Libya’s Government of National Accord told Reuters that the drone went down near Tarhuna, 40 miles southeast of Tripoli.

One official from the GNA, which is internationally recognized, told the outlet that Russian military contractors appeared to be responsible.

However, Russian authorities have denied using military contractors in any foreign military operation, claiming that any Russian nationals that are fighting abroad are doing so as volunteers. The Libyan National Army has also denied receiving foreign backing.

Townsend said the incident underscores the influence of Russian mercenaries in the area.

“This highlights the malign influence of Russian mercenaries acting to influence the outcome of the civil war in Libya, and who are directly responsible for the recent and sharp increase in fighting, casualties and destruction around Tripoli,” Townsend told Reuters.

--This report was updated on Dec. 9 at 10:01 a.m.