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World Exclusive: U.S. says drone shot down by Russian air defenses near Libyan capital

09:00  07 december  2019
09:00  07 december  2019 Source:   reuters.com

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The U . S . military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya ' s capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defenses 21, said Africa Command spokesman Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns. Karns said the United States believed the air defense operators

The drone was shot down hours after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile into neighboring Saudi Arabia, a key U . S . ally in the Speaking later in an annual televised question-and-answer session, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a U . S .-Iran war "would be a catastrophe, for

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

Tripoli© 2019 HERE/Microsoft Tripoli

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).

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The downing of the drone , via surface-to- air missile, is only the most recent Iranian provocation in the region, coming on the heels of a disputed attack Similarly, Iran claimed the U . S . drone on Thursday was over Iranian airspace when it was shot down -- but American officials stated unequivocally the

The US Africa Command said on Saturday that an unarmed American drone had been shot down by Russian air defence systems near the capital city They say they don't know where it is but I am not buying it", General Stephen Townsend, who leads the Africa Command, told Reuters in a statement

U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa command, said he believed the operators of the air defenses at the time "didn't know it was a U.S. 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 Reuters in a statement, without elaborating.

The U.S. 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 defenses at the time the drone was reported lost on Nov. 21, said Africa Command spokesman Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns.

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

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A US military drone which was lost near Tripoli, Libya ' s capital , in November is thought to have been shot down by Russian air defense systems, according to Reuters.

A similar drone was shot down by Iranian forces on Thursday.Credit Both United States Central Command and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps say the high-altitude drone was shot down by a surface-to- air missile. U . S . said drone shot down here. Two tankers attacked in June in this area.

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

Russian authorities deny using military contractors in any foreign military theater 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.

TIPPING THE BALANCE

Haftar, who claims to be fighting to rid Tripoli of Islamist-leaning armed groups, has received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and, most recently, from Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials

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Iran said the US drone they shot down was a “blatant violation of international law,” calling on the international community to demand the US end “its continued unlawful and destabilizing measure in the already volatile region of the Persian Gulf.” In a new letter to the United Nations Secretary General

WASHINGTON — The American military downed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday in what President Trump called an act of self- defense , just hours after Iran’ s chief diplomat offered a modest road map for easing tensions with the United States.

Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Russians' contributions of advanced capabilities -- everything from snipers to precision weaponry -- could be felt on the battlefield, boosting the morale of Haftar's forces.

"It's giving Haftar a real technological edge," said Wehrey, who recently returned from Libya.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in an interview with Reuters earlier this week, declined to comment directly on the drone but said he believed Russia was trying to "put their finger on the scale" in Libya's civil war to create a situation that was advantageous to Moscow.

Townsend voiced deep concern about Russia's growing role in the country, including how it would affect Libya's "territorial sovereignty and AFRICOM's counter-terrorism mission."

"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," Townsend said.

Mohammed Ali Abdallah, advisor for U.S. affairs in Libya's GNA, said the U.S. drone had come down near the pro-LNA stronghold of Tarhuna, 65km (40 miles) south-east of Tripoli.

More than 1,400 Russian mercenaries were deployed with the LNA, he said.

"Only the Russians have that ability - and they were operating where it happened," Abdallah said, in written comments sent to Reuters.

"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."

More than 200 civilians have been killed and more than 128,000 displaced in the fighting since April, according to U.N. figures.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Aidan Lewis; additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi; Editing by Michael Perry)

Fighting rages near Libya's capital in push by rebel army .
CAIRO (AP) — Just two days after rebel Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter declared a “final" and decisive battle for the capital Tripoli, heavy fighting raged for a 24-hour period between his troops and militias loosely allied with the internationally backed government based in the city, officials said Saturday. The fighting came after Hifter, the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army, said Thursday that the “zero hour” of his battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months after he began an offensive to take the city from the country's Government of National accord supported by the U.N.

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