Officials in Washington claim Russian defences of attacking one of its drones during a mission last month. The drone was flying within close proximity of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, reportedly conducting a reconnaissance mission.
It comes as ongoing clashes between Libyan factions who are currently battling it out to seize control of the capital.
Moscow’s involvement in the region has long been debated, with its influence feared to have grown considerably in recent weeks.
It is thought that Russia has dabbled its hand in the civil war for many years, which has been raging since 2014.
The war has claimed thousands of lives, with Russian mercenaries said to be aiding commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) in their attempts to seize the Tripoli.
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Libya has been engaged in civil war since 2014
Leading western figures in the west have voiced their concern over Russia’s apparent presence in the region.
US army general Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa Command, one of the 11 unified combatant commands of the US army, recently came forward to warn over Russia’s meddling, demanding the return of the drone wreckage.
He admitted that those operating the air defences “didn’t know it was a US remotely piloted aircraft when they fired on it”, but added “they certainly know who it belongs to now”.
Talking to Reuters, General Townsend said: “They say they don’t know where it is but I am not buying it.
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Khalifa Haftar is the leader of the Libyan National Army
“This highlights the malign influence of Russian mercenaries acting to influence the outcome of the civil war in Libya, and who are directly responsible for the recent and sharp increase in fighting, casualties and destruction around Tripoli.”
Such a shutdown, if proven, would clearly highlight Moscow’s increasingly muscular role in the energy-rich nation.
US defence secretary, Mark Esper, said he believed Russia was trying to “put their finger on the scale” in Libya’s civil war in order to tip the situation in their favour.
Libya’s current officially recognised government is its Government of National Accord (GNA), which doubles up as its interim government under a UN-led initiative established in 2015.
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The US claim Russia shot down their drone near Tripoli
The war has left thousands dead
The outfit told Reuters that Russian mercenaries appeared to be responsible for the drone’s shooting down.
The US’ assessment has concluded one of two culprits, either Russian private military contractors or Haftar-led forces were operating the air defences at the time the drone was reported lost on 21 November, according to Africa Command spokesperson Christopher Karns.
Mohammed Ali Abdallah, adviser for US affairs in Libya’s GNA, said the drone had fallen near the pro-LNA stronghold of Tarhuna, 40 miles south-east of Tripoli.
He added that more than 1,400 Russian mercenaries were deployed with the LNA.
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In a written comment sent to Reuters, he said: “Only the Russians have that ability – and they were operating where it happened.”
“It’s our understanding that Haftar was asked by his Russian partners to claim responsibility, despite not having the capability or equipment to shoot down a US drone.”
Mr Haftar claims to be fighting to rid Tripoli of Islamist-leaning armed groups, in an attempt to cleanse the city of extremism.
He is said to be supported by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, according to Tripoli officials and diplomats.
There are several Libyan factions currently struggling for control of the capital
Russia authorities have denied involvement in the civil war as foreign meddlers.
They say Moscow has not authorised the use and deployment of mercenaries, and say any Russian civilians who may be fighting abroad are volunteers detached from the state.
The LNA also denies it has any foreign backing.