Military Aviation

Use of Contracted Russian Fighter Jets in Libya intensifies risk of civilian casualties

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.

As private Russian contractors are continuing to build up their presence of fighter jets in Libya, concerns about long-term security impacts of this capability and short-term worries about the skills and professionalism of fighter pilots for hire raise, Air Force Magazine says.

The aircraft are reportedly flown by the Wagner Group in support of military commander Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord. In addition to the aircraft, the air field also now has a Spoon Rest mobile early warning radar system, according to AFRICOM, which says the deployment violates a United Nations arms embargo.

“Russia’s sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford Gering, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) director of operations, says in a news release. “Russia 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 and deployed to al Jufra Air Field in direct violation of the United Nations arms embargo, as the new images (released on Jun. 18 by AFRICOM) in this post show.

“We know these fighters were not already in Libya and being repaired,” said Col. Chris Karns, director of AFRICOM public affairs. “Clearly, they came from Russia. They didn’t come from any other country.”

Russia’s introduction of manned, armed attack aircraft into Libya changes the nature of the current conflict and intensifies the potential of risk to all Libyans, especially innocent civilians.

“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. “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.

“Russia has relentlessly stuck to a narrative of implausible denials in the media,” said Karns. “It’s difficult to deny facts. Russian interference and masking of activity in Libya is visible and delaying progress. Progress the people of Libya deserve.”

Photo credit: AFRICOM

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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