US says drone shot down by Russian air defences near Libyan capital

Reuters Washington Dec 07, 2019, 01.25 PM(IST)

American guardian drone Photograph:( ANI )

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Such a shootdown would underscore Moscow's increasingly muscular role in the energy-rich nation, where Russian mercenaries are reportedly intervening on behalf of east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya's civil war.

The US military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya's capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defences and it is demanding the return of the aircraft's wreckage, US Africa Command says.

Such a shootdown would underscore Moscow's increasingly muscular role in the energy-rich nation, where Russian mercenaries are reportedly intervening on behalf of east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya's civil war.

Haftar has sought to take the capital Tripoli, now held by Libya's internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

US Army General Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa command, said he believed the operators of the air defences at the time "didn't know it was the US remotely piloted aircraft when they fired on it."

"But they certainly know who it belongs to now and they are refusing to return it. They say they don't know where it is but I am not buying it," Townsend told in a statement, without elaborating.

The US assessment, which has not been previously disclosed, concludes that either Russian private military contractors or Haftar's so-called Libyan National Army were operating the air defences at the time the drone was reported lost on November 21, said Africa Command spokesman Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns.

Karns said the United States believed the air defence operators fired on the US aircraft after "mistaking it for an opposition" drone.

An official in Libya's internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) told that Russian mercenaries appeared to be responsible.

Russian authorities deny using military contractors in any foreign military theatre and say any Russian civilians who may be fighting abroad are volunteers. The LNA denies it has foreign backing.

One current and one former Russian contractor told Reuters that since September the LNA had received ground support from several hundred private military contractors from a Russian group.

Military officials linked to the GNA and Western diplomats have also confirmed the presence of Russian contractors in Libya.