Russian-backed Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar’s air force will launch what it says are unprecedented strikes on Turkish targets in the North African country, signaling a possible escalation after a week of setbacks in the war against the Turkish-backed government in Tripoli.
The announcement came as Fathi Bashagha, the security chief of Haftar’s rivals in the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli, told Bloomberg at least eight Soviet-era jets have arrived in the east from a Russian airbase in Syria, possibly to assist in any new aerial campaign.
“You are about to see the largest aerial campaign in Libyan history in the coming hours,” Bloomberg quoted LNA air force chief Saqr al-Jaroushi as saying in a statement. “All Turkish positions and interests in all cities are legitimate targets for our air force jets and we call on civilians to stay away from them.”
Analysts say Turkey’s contributions were vital in helping the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) seize the al-Watiya airbase on Monday, as Turkish drones and artillery had pounded the base for weeks before LNA forces retreated. Turkey has also flown in thousands of fighters from allied militias in Syria to aid in the Libyan struggle, according to widespread media reports.
GNA security chief Fathi Bashagha told Bloomberg that at least six Soviet-era MiG 29s and two Sukhoi 24s had arrived in the east from a Russian airbase in Syria, possibly to assist the LNA in a new air campaign.