US Africa Command (AFRICOM) revealed Tuesday that Russia had recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors of Wagner Group operating on the ground in Libya within the forces of Khalifa Haftar, who has been leading an offensive against Tripoli since April 2019.
AFRICOM indicated in a statement that Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group mercenaries that are supporting Haftar's forces that are fighting against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord.
"The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin." AFRICOM said.
It added that 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," said the commander of AFRICOM, US Army General Stephen Townsend.
Gen. Townsend said for too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now.
"We watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya -- every step of the way. Neither the LNA nor private military companies can arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support -- support they are getting from Russia." Gen. Townsend added.
AFRICOM added that Russia had employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions.
AFRICOM also said that Moscow's military actions had prolonged the Libyan conflict and exacerbated casualties and human suffering on both sides.
“The world heard Mr. Haftar declare he was about to unleash a new air campaign. That will be Russian mercenary pilots flying Russian-supplied aircraft to bomb Libyans.” Gen. Townsend said.
AFRICOM also indicated that Russia is not interested in what is best for the Libyan people but is working to achieve Moscow's own strategic goals instead.
Meanwhile, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, Gen. Jeff Harrigian, said if the Russians seized bases on Libya's coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities, adding that if that day comes, Russia will create very real security concerns on Europe's southern flank.
"Russia’s destabilizing actions in Libya will also exacerbate the regional instability that has driven the migration crisis affecting Europe." AFRICOM explained.