The commander of the Libyan National Army, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, has threatened to escalate the LNA’s offensive in western Libya, amid reports that his militia has taken delivery of fighter jets.
In a statement on Thursday, the chief of the LNA’s Air Force, Saqr al-Jaroushi, said that the LNA would soon conduct the “largest aerial campaign in Libyan history,” warning that the LNA viewed Turkish military positions in Libya as “legitimate targets.”
Bloomberg News reported that the LNA appears to have taken delivery of over a half dozen fighter jets. The interior minister of the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord, which rivals the LNA and controls the capital Tripoli, said that a pair of Su-24s and at least six MiG-29s have recently arrived from Hmeymim air base in Syria, which is operated by the Russian military.
The Bloomberg report added on the jets, “It wasn’t clear whether those were refurbished jets that had belonged to Haftar’s airforce or additions to his fleet.”
Independent confirmation of the GNA’s claims remain difficult, though satellite imagery appears to show at least some of the aircraft at al-Jufrah airbase.
— Brian Castner (@Brian_Castner) May 21, 2020
Earlier this month, forces backing the GNA recaptured the strategic al-Watiya air base, dealing a significant blow to the LNA’s campaign to conquer Tripoli. The LNA launched the offensive last year, but has been thrown back in recent months as the Turkish military has intervened on the GNA’s behalf.
Amid the recent fighting, footage has emerged of Turkish drones appearing to destroy several Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems, which have been deployed to Libya by the United Arab Emirates, a backer of the LNA. American military officials have previously stated that they believe Russian private military contractors are operating the Pantsir systems in Libya on the LNA’s behalf.
In written testimony to Congress today, Gen. Stephen Townsend, AFRICOM chief, confirms US suspicions, which I reported last month, that Russian private military contractors are operating SA-22/Pantsir SAMs on behalf of Libyan army and downed a US MQ-9. https://t.co/Vs6hf9Y2OR https://t.co/cJ9GxyoUn6 pic.twitter.com/9I7dp398fR
— Steve Trimble (@TheDEWLine) March 10, 2020
Besides those launchers that have been destroyed, at least one Pantsir-S1 system was captured by the GNA.
— Oded Berkowitz (@Oded121351) May 18, 2020
Despite the setbacks, the LNA is not going to accept defeat, a senior Arab official familiar with the military campaign told Bloomberg News.
UPDATE: This post has been updated with the addition of new satellite imagery showing a MiG-29 at al-Jufrah airbase.