Rival factions in Libya’s civil war both claim that Russia has transferred six MiG-29 fighters and two Su-24 attack jets to Al Jufra airbase in central Libya to support the Benghazi-based Libyan National Army (LNA) faction led by General Khalifa Haftar.
The UN experts reportedly launched a probe into transfer of eight Russian-made warplanes to war-weary Libya, where the internationally recognized government fights against affiliates of renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.
According to a report by the Financial Times based on statements of anonymous diplomats, the dispatch of the warplanes to the renegade commander might further escalate the tension in the country.
An unidentified Western official said: “This is Syria playing out right here in Libya, this is becoming a real proxy war.”
Referring to Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga’s statement in which he said at least eight fighter jets had flown into eastern Libya from Hmeimim airbase in Syria, the Western diplomat said it was “almost certainly more than this” number of aircraft.
Turkey in turn has warned that it drones, air defense batteries and warships are ready to retaliate against any attacks on its forces in Libya.The diplomats also said the UN authorities were investigating a shipment of about 11,000 tons of jet fuel from the UAE to Libya’s Benghazi in March.
However, Haftar’s forces lack the capacity to fly the dispatched warplanes, according to the report, which also said there were several hundred Russian mercenaries of Wagner Group backing the warlord.
Wolfram Lacher, a Libyan analyst, speculated on the possible operational activities of the dispatched warplanes, claiming Haftar side would use them to bomb Al-Watiya airbase.
Lacher argued the warplanes might also target air defenses positioned in the capital Tripoli and Misurata, adding deployment of the aircraft sought to prevent Libyan army from “pushing Haftar out of western parts of the country.”
Libyan army recently secured control over Al-Watiya airbase, a strategically important military base in Western Libya that was used by Haftar side for years. The retaking of the airbase was viewed by many experts as a significant blow to Haftar side and its supporters.
On Thursday, Haftar’s militia threatened to target Turkish interests in Libya.
Responding to the threats, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: “We remind it once again that in case of targeting Turkish interests in Libya, this will have very heavy consequences and the putschist Haftar elements will be considered as a legitimate target.”
The deployment of Russian-made fighter jets came after Libya’s government destroyed multiple Russian-made Pantsir-type air-defence systems.
The Libyan government, also known as the Government of National Accord (GNA), has been under attack by warlord Haftar’s armed forces since April 2019.