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AFRICOM published “evidence” including this curious blurry picture. Photo: AFRICOM

Is US ‘evidence’ of Russian jet fighters in Libya real or fake?

A number of media outlets published reports which contained statements that Russian MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 front-line bombers were sent to Libya from Hmeimim airbase in Syria. These reports, reminiscent of a planned media campaign, culminated in a statement by the Africa Command of the US Armed Forces (AFRICOM).

Published: May 29, 2020, 3:13 pm

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    AFRICOM posted information on its official site that fighters of the Russian aerospace forces allegedly arrived at the Libyan Al-Jufra airbase, controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA) and Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

    “Russian fighters were delivered to Libya from a base in the Russian Federation. They were first brought to Syria, where, we believe, they were repainted to try to hide their origin,” AFRICOM announced in a peculiar statement on Tuesday.

    US military officials maintain that the purpose of the aircraft transfer is “to help Russian-backed private mercenaries operating in Libyan territory on behalf of the LNA”.

    As alleged evidence, AFRICOM published photographs of aircraft in the air, as well as satellite images of the Al-Jufra airbase, on which the appearance of a MiG-29 was marked.

    Both Russian authorities and representatives of the LNA denied such statements by AFRICOM.

    Nevertheless, AFRICOM Commander Stephen Townsend underlined that “for too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now”.

    But is the hamfisted evidence provided by AFRICOM really undeniable? Closer inspection of the supposed ineradicable “proof” have rather added to the number of question marks Townsend’s latest assertions raise.

    First of all, the actual quality of the photographs is quite bad and somewhat indistinct. It is generally not so clear what exactly the type of the plane is depicted on these pictures, not to mention images of Al-Jufra airbase which looks more like a screenshot from some videogame.

    Secondly, photos provided by AFRICOM do not include any information or caption on where and when precisely they were taken. Basically, it is just some images of the jet fighters in the sky, with no description on the direction and date of their flight. The same uncertain origin is evident when looking at the visual shots of some, allegedly Russian, airbase where MiG-29 and Su-35 are seen.

    It is neither clear what the airbase in question is since AFRICOM provided no information about that (and just published a photo with no caption) nor where the planes are headed.

    Thirdly, the statement by AFRICOM about repainted fighter jets in order to hide their origin sounds very bizzare to anyone who has basic knowledge of modern navigation and radar systems. Such systems are equipped with advanced electronics and detection devices which can be used to easily identify any military object – so stories about revamping some jet fighters will entertain only the youngest members of a kid’s aviation club but hardly real air force experts.

    Interestingly, the curious AFRICOM statement and pictures published by the US military elicited doubts also in the US media and society at large. In particular, an American news portal The Drive believes that Russian MiG-29 fighters, which Moscow may have sent to Libya from Syria, raise too many questions.

    “It is still unclear how the planes were able to fly from Hmeimim air base to Al-Jufra base, the distance between which reaches almost 2100 km. Most of the MiG-29, with the exception of the modified MiG-29KR and MiG-29SMT, do not provide refueling in the air,” The Drive underscored.

    Understandably, any accusation, especially on such a serious topic as the involvement of other countries in conflicts of foreign states, should be carefully investigated and researched. A similar view was expressed by the German Bundestag member Stefan Keuter who believes that “a neutral investigation of the actual or alleged presence of Russian military aircraft in Libya is required”.

    Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that the “evidence” which was published by the US authorities and mainstream media is no longer necessarily credible since the many precedents of fake news being proliferated.

    One shining example of the spread of fake news is the sensational confession by BBC producer Riam Dalati in February 2019. Dalati confirmed that the video which covered “suffering of Syrian children from a chemical attack” was in fact fake. Alarmingly, this very video was the reason for the US strike on Syria in April of 2018.

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