At least 15 Russian combat aircraft are now operating in Libya to support Moscow-backed mercenary groups, U.S. military officials confirmed Thursday.
U.S. Africa Command said it has photographs of Russian jets taking off and operating near at least two locations in Libya — an airfield at al-Jufra near the country’s center and Sirte on the Libyan coast.
“Russia’s sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford Gering, Africa Command’s operations director.
“Russia continues to push for a strategic foothold on NATO’s southern flank and this is at the expense of innocent LIbyan lives.”
In a briefing with defense writers, the head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe said he’s also concerned Russia is attempting to gain a permanent presence in Libya, similar to what they’ve done in Syria.
“That’s going to be a significant security concern,” Air Force Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan told reporters in Washington.
The Russian aircraft confirmed to be flying in Libya are the MiG-29, MiG-24 and Su-24, Gen. Harrigan said.
They’ve been unable to confirm whether the Russian jets have conducted any airstrikes while in Libya. U.S. officials also have a concern about the abilities of the mercenary pilots. Some may be retired pilots forced to learn new systems in a short time.