Syria sends several Russian MIG-29s to Haftar’s army

In addition, the Syrian Arab Army is providing Libyan rebels with training on how to operate MI-35 attack helicopters
MIG-29 fighter plane

REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO  -   MIG-29 fighter plane

Cooperation between the Syrian Government and the Libyan National Army (LNA) of rebel marshal Khalifa Haftar is intensified. According to an undisclosed source by Syrian journalist Nadia Abid, Bashar al-Asad's regime has agreed to send several Russian-made MIG-29 fighter jet units to its North African ally. The information has been confirmed by analyst José Luis Mansilla (@Sahel_Intel).

This transaction is part of a broader mutual support line established between Damascus and Tobruk in early March in the Syrian capital. The two administrations then signed a memorandum of understanding with 46 specific clauses for a joint effort against Turkey and its related combatant groups.

Bachar al-Asad, presidente de Siria
PHOTO/SANA - Bachar al-Asad, President of Syria

In Syria and Libya, the Syrian Arab Army and the LNA are fighting basically the same enemy. Recep Tayyip Erdogan's troops are supporting both the Syrian opposition groups - mostly close to jihadi terrorist organisations - and the troops of the Tripoli National Accord Government (GNA), the latter of which is recognised by the United Nations.

In a way, both conflicts have become a sort of communicating vessels: Erdogan has been transferring Syrian mercenaries to Libya in recent months to reinforce the precarious situation of his ally Fayez Sarraj, so Al-Asad and Haftar have decided to join forces.

El mariscal del Ejército Nacional Libio (LNA) Jalifa Haftar
PHOTO/REUTERS - Libyan National Army (LNA) Marshal Khalifa Haftar

The latest move by the LNA may represent a major blow to the development of the conflict in Libya. The MIG 29, designed by Moscow in the last years of the Cold War, is notable for its manoeuvrability and has the capacity to accommodate long-range missiles under its wings. The addition of several of these missiles to its air force could give Haftar's forces a significant advantage over their opponents.

This is not the only recent example of collaboration between the two parties. An agreement between Russia - Al-Asad's main ally - and the LNA has enabled the Kremlin to send between 300 and 400 militiamen from the Nukhba combat unit to Libya. This unit was part of the opposition, but surrendered its weapons to Damascus. From the southern region of Quneitra, they will be sent to Russian training camps in Libya and from there will join Haftar's troops on the various front lines.

In addition, according to analyst Stephen Jones, Damascus is providing training at its air bases so that several members of the LNA can learn to fly M-35 attack helicopters, also of Russian manufacture, which can also be used for troop transport or emergency evacuation.

Un helicóptero del ejército ruso MI-35
AFP/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC - A Russian army helicopter MI-35

Of course, the war in Libya is also being fought in the air. On the part of the GNA, the greatest contributions are being obtained thanks to the Bayraktar TB-2 drones provided by Qatar. Although they bear the manufacturing stamp of Turkey, it is the Gulf country that has negotiated their acquisition by Tripoli, according to the Arabian Aerospace website. Sarraj also has several Israeli Orbiter 3s at its disposal, according to the same media.

The LNA, for its part, is using anti-aircraft defence systems also provided by Israelis, according to the newspaper Al-Masdar. Similarly, Haftar's troops have Russian Pantsir anti-aircraft systems which, as reported by Al-Masdar, have destroyed up to 16 Turkish aircraft held by the GNA since last November.

In terms of attack units, the MIG 29s transferred by Syria would be added to a fleet that already includes, among others, Russian Sukhoi 22 fighters, as well as MIG 21, a pre-MIG 29 model.

Combatientes leales al internacionalmente reconocido Gobierno de Acuerdo Nacional (GNA)
AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA - Combatants loyal to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA)

Currently, fighting is concentrated in the western part of the country, between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. A recent offensive by the GNA has succeeded in seizing several locations of great strategic value from the LNA. In the course of this campaign, looting, executions of civilians and the release of prisoners belonging to Daesh have been recorded. Similarly, the southern suburbs of Tripoli and the towns south of Misrata continue to be the scene of ground fighting and air attacks.