Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Libya: Khalifa Haftar's forces say they downed foreign mercenary piloted jet

Tripoli's Government of National Accord has reportedly denied losing any aircraft

A fighter loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) stands on a rooftop as smoke rises during clashes with forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar south of Tripoli on April 29, 2019. AFP
A fighter loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) stands on a rooftop as smoke rises during clashes with forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar south of Tripoli on April 29, 2019. AFP

Libyan troops loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar said on Tuesday they shot down a warplane affiliated with the Government of National Accord (GNA) and captured its foreign "mercenary" pilot near the capital Tripoli.

But as Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj travelled to Europe to seek support against Field Marshal Haftar's assault on Tripoli, the GNA has reportedly denied losing any aircraft.

LNA forces said they downed a GNA-affiliated Mirage F1 fighter jet that had attempted to strike positions in the Al Hira region, 70 kilometres south of Tripoli.

“The plane’s pilot, of Portuguese origin, has been detained,” the LNA statement added.

Video shared online showed a man with a head wound and blood-spattered uniform asked whether he was a soldier. "No, I am a civilian," he says.

In another video published by a pro-Haftar website, the pilot says he is a 29-year-old "from Portugal" and identifies himself as Jimmy Reese.

"I was requested to destroy roads and bridges" as part of a "civilian contract", he said in English in response to a question about what he was doing.

A spokesman for the Portuguese defence ministry told Agence France-Presse news agency that the country's "air force has no missing pilots, is not currently on a mission in Libya and does not have a Mirage F1 in its fleet".

The GNA, whose forces have been locked in battle with the LNA since Field Marshal Haftar's fighters launched an offensive to take Tripoli on April 4, denied losing any aircraft, according to local media reports.

The almost five-week-old battle on the southern outskirts of Tripoli has killed at least 432 people, wounded 2,069 and displaced some 55,000 others, according to the UN.

After initial advances for the LNA, its rivals have launched a counter-offensive, leading to a stalemate on the ground.

The two sides often accuse each of resorting to the use of foreign mercenaries and outside military assistance.

Libya has been mired in chaos since the ouster and killing of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with Field Marshal Haftar supporting a rival administration in the east of the country.

Updated: May 8, 2019 02:11 PM

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