Russia has recently deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries who are battling for warlord Khalifa Haftar, said US military leaders on Tuesday, Anadolu Agency reports.
"US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there," US Africa Command said in a statement.
"Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the [Haftar-led] Libyan National Army's (LNA) fight against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord," said the statement.
Since April 2019 separatist Haftar's forces have launched attacks on the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwestern Libya, resulting in over 1,000 deaths.
Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political agreement.
Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said more than 2,000 Russian Wagner Group mercenaries were fighting in the war-ravaged country.
The US also claimed that 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."
"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," US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, US Africa Command, said in the statement.
"For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now," Townsend said.
Townsend accused Russia of concealing its direct role in Libya and avoiding responsibility for the "malign actions" of Wagner Group mercenaries.
He went on to say that "Moscow's military actions have 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," Townsend said.