The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said Russia's introduction of manned, armed attack aircraft into Libya has changed the nature of the current conflict and intensified the potential of risk to all Libyans, especially innocent civilians.
AFRICOM added in a statement on Thursday that Russian aircraft are being used to support private military companies (PMCs), referring specifically to Wagner Group, sponsored by the Russian government.
"US Africa Command (USAFRICOM) has photographic evidence of a Russian aircraft taking off from al-Jufra, Libya. A MiG-29 was also photographed operating in the vicinity of the city of Sirte, Libya." The statement reads.
Meanwhile, US Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford Gering, the USAFRICOM director of operations, said Russia's sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution, adding that Moscow continues to push for a strategic foothold on NATO's southern flank and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan lives.
In late May, AFRICOM reported that at least 14 MiG-29s and several Su-24s were flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their Russian origin.
"These aircraft were then flown into Libya in direct violation of the United Nations arms embargo." US Africa Command said at the time.
The director of USAFRICOM public affairs, Chris Karns said they knew those fighters were not already in Libya and being repaired, adding that clearly, they came from Russia, not from any other country.
"There is concern these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state PMC mercenaries who will not adhere to international law; namely, they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict," Gering said, adding: "If this is true and bombing occurs, innocent Libyan lives are at risk."
"As the number one arms dealer in Africa, Russia continues to profit from violence and instability across the continent. Russian government backed PMCs, such as the Wagner Group, are active in sixteen countries across Africa. It is estimated that there are about 2,000 Wagner Group personnel in Libya." AFRICOM said.
Karns added that it’s difficult to deny facts, as Russian interference and masking of activity in Libya is visible and delaying progress of the people of Libya.