The U.S. government is worried Russia is tightening its grip in Libya after fighter jets from Moscow, transferred last month, are now being flown in the north African country in support of Russian mercenaries, a top general said Thursday.
U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa head Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian told reporters that the Russian aircraft, the numbers of which are in the "upper teens" in Libya, could signal "a significant security concern" to Europe and Libyans.
The United States has observed that the jets are largely being used to work on basic pilot skills, but Harrigian noted that inexperienced airmen raise alarms as they could inadvertently kill civilians when flying.
"This naturally, in my mind, raises some concerns, particularly when you talk about civilian casualties and what that could mean, particularly when you're looking at areas where there's city populations - it's a small, constrained environment to operate in," he said.
The U.S. accused Russia of trying to bolster Russian mercenaries fighting in support of rebel commander Khalifa Haftar when in late May, Moscow transferred MiG-29s, MiG 23s and Su-24s aircraft to Libya.