Russia repainted its Air Force's fighter jets to camouflage their origin and flew them to aid warlord Khalifa Haftar's forces in Libya, the US Africa Command has alleged.
“Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions,” U.S. Africa Command said in statement on May 26.
In a tweet, the US Africa Command said MiG-29 and Su-24 jets departed Russia with Russian Federation Air Force markings.
“After they land at Khmeimin Air Base in Syria, the MiG-29s are repainted and emerge with no national markings. They are flown by Russian military members & escorted by Russian fighters based in Syria to Libya, landing in Eastern Libya near Tobruk for fuel. At least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft are then delivered to Al-Jufra Air Base in Libya,” the service tweeted.
Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group, a private military contractor (PMC) that is supporting the Libyan National Army's (LNA) fight against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
"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 U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
"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,” the official added.
“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,” Townsend said.
Multiple news sources in the Middle East and Turkey reported yesterday that the Wagner Group were evacuated in several AN-32 aircraft.