A Russian MiG-29 fighter jet has been spotted at a Libyan air base held by militants fighting against Turkish-backed forces, suggesting that the air war in Libya could be poised to intensify.
Satellite imagery has emerged showing at least one MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jet at an air base in Libya under the control of forces aligned with rogue general Khalifa Haftar.
This follows reports that six MiG-29s, as well as a pair of Su-24 Fencer combat jets, had recently arrived to join Haftar’s Libyan National Army, or LNA.
On May 21, 2020, Brian Castner, a weapons investigator on Amnesty International’s Crisis Team, posted on Twitter a satellite image taken two days earlier of Al Jufrah Air Base, which situated in the center of Libya, that showed a MiG-29 Fulcrum being towed by a truck along the base’s main taxiway.
Turkey is backing the Tripoli-based GNA in its fight against Haftar’s forces, which are supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt, among others.
This week, GNA-aligned forces – backed by Turkish firepower – won a string of victories over the LNA in the west of the country, recapturing a major base along with various weapons and other equipment by using Turkish drones to destroy newly arrived Russian air defence systems and ousting Haftar’s forces from Asaba, a key town south of Tripoli.
Libya is subject to an international arms embargo, but the United Nations has said that backers of both the GNA and the LNA have repeatedly violated the prohibitions, the Drive said.
The GNA’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said this week that the six MiG-29s and two Su-24s had touched down somewhere in the eastern portion of Libya after flying to the country by way of Russia’s Hmeimim Air Base in Syria and escorted at least part of the way by Russian Su-35 Flankers, Bloomberg reported. The Drive also mentioned unconfirmed reports that Belarus might have supplied the jets, or that Egypt may have played a role.
Bloomberg said it was not clear whether the reported arrivals of planes were refurbished jets that had belonged to Haftar’s air force or additions to his fleet. The Drive said it was unclear whether Haftar’s forces would be operating them or if a third party – such as mercenaries supplied by Russia or another state – would be flying them.
A statement from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry responded: “If Turkish interests in Libya are targeted, we will legitimately target the elements of the coup plotter Haftar.”