Mischief is afoot in Libya as Russia deploys high-performance jet fighters to support the Libyan National Army (LNA). In an earlier article, Liberty Nation sounded the alarm as U.S. Commander of Africa Command explained that Libya could be “more dangerous than ISIS” if Russian mercenaries supporting the LNA are allowed to defeat the Government of National Accord military forces, destabilize the country, and take over the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Lately, however, the LNA has suffered several military losses and is stalled in the battle being waged to capture the Libyan capital, Tripoli. General Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan field marshal, leads the LNA in its operations with the aid of Russian mercenaries known as the Wagner Group. It is not surprising the Haftar called for help from the Russians who, along with Syria, have aligned with Haftar.
The Russians were quick to provide MIG-29s, like the aircraft in the reconnaissance photo of the Russian fighter in flight, released by AFRICOM May 26, 2020.
These aircraft can provide close air support and offensive air-to-ground bombing for LNA forces and Wagner mercenaries. With high-performance aircraft on their side, Haftar has a significant advantage in the Libyan ground war. Al-Sarraj’s government has nothing comparable in its air force. According to AFRICOM, the aircraft flew from Russia to Libya with a stop in Syria to have the planes painted to obscure the Russian markings.
“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. For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict,” General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, said in a press release from AFRICA COMMAND Headquarters. “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.”
To further validate the presence of the MIG-29s in Libya, AFRICOM released another May 26, 2020 reconnaissance photograph of one of the planes being towed to the ramp from the runway at Al Jufra Airfield in Libya. The overhead photo shows clearly the towing vehicle and aircraft.
According to U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian, commander of the AFRICOM Air Component, should Russia help seize military facilities along the Mediterranean coast in Libya, Moscow would be positioned to deploy “permanent long-range anti-access, area-denial capabilities.” He continued: “If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.” Additionally, Russia would be able to hold at significant risk the oil that Europe depends on from Libya.
Adding to the dilemma, there is the complicating factor of competing alliance relationships. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – along with Russia and Syria – support Haftar, while the U.S. and NATO ally Turkey are in the Libyan prime minister’s camp, providing aid to al-Sarraj’s National forces. In a recent issue of AMN (Al-Masdar Al-‘Arabi – The Arab Source) an article entitled, “U.S. Accuses Syria and Russia of Sending fighters to Libya,” the author reports, “Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Henry Worcester expressed Washington’s unease about the relations between Haftar and [Syria’s] Assad, and he said during the same press conference, ‘Another very disturbing thing is … Haftar’s establishment of so-called diplomatic relations with the Assad regime.’”
As Russia raises the ante in Libya, the U.S. has a sporty foreign policy challenge. The diplomatic juggling act boils down to supporting Libya to prevent the country from becoming more of a failed state than it is, making nice with Egypt and the UAE, not alienating Turkey, and all while discouraging the Russians from taking up permanent residence in Tripoli. Hey! Just another day at the office in Foggy Bottom.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.
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