- Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army said it shot down the drone
- The drone was supporting the US ambassador to Libya Richard Norland
Libyan rebels supported by Russia’s Wagner Group in the armed conflict shot down an unmanned US drone over Benghazi, the Air Force confirmed Wednesday.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s ex-generals who has been fighting Libya’s internationally recognized central government since 2011, leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) in the country’s conflict.
The LNA said on Monday it had shot down the drone, believed to be a MQ-9 Reaper, near Benghazi’s Benina airport after footage circulated on social media showing a burning object fall from the sky and explode in a field.
‘US Africa Command can confirm that a US Air Force Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) crashed in the vicinity of Benghazi, Libya,’ said lieutenant commander Timothy S. Pietrack of the US Air Force, in a written statement send to MailOnline.
‘The aircraft was operating in support of US Ambassador and Special Envoy to Libya Richard Norland’s diplomatic engagements scheduled to occur in eastern Libya, and coordinated with the appropriate Libyan authorities.’
Africa Command said it is still investigating the incident, which has come at a time when a peace in Libya teeters on the verge of collapse — risking another civil war in the country.
Several angles showed the drone spinning as it cascaded towards the earth.
Photos at the crash site show locals standing over the destroyed drone, with the wreckage still smoking.
Online sleuths examined the drone and identified what appeared to be four propeller blades at the scene of the crash, marking the Reaper drone as the USAF MQ-9 ER.
Only the US Air Force is known to operate the USAF MQ-9 ER, MailOnline understands.
The US used drones to attack militants in the region as recently as April, according to The Intercept.
A senior officer in the army confirmed via a LNA-linked Facebook account that ‘air defense’ had identified and shot down the drone.
The LNA did not saw what type of air defense was used, but the army is known to be in possession of the Pantsir missile system delivered by the United Arab Emirates, which opposes the UN-recognized government.
The army also has missile defenses left over from the days military autocrat Gaddafi ruled the country.
It comes after the United Nations on Tuesday voiced ‘deep concern’ over growing tensions between rival Libyan forces, calling for ‘immediate’ moves to calm the situation.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said it was ‘following with deep concern the ongoing mobilization of forces and threats to resort to force’ by groups vying for control of the North African country.
An MQ-9 Reaper drone is pictured. The Reaper is the US Air Force’s first ‘hunter-killer’ unmanned aerial vehicle, designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield
Libya has been ravaged by repeated conflicts since the 2011 revolt that overthrew Gaddafi.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is pictured shortly before he was killed by rebels supported by air strikes driven by a coalition of Western countries
Islamists groups have also sprung up to fill the power vacuum left by the dictator, prompting rival countries to provide aid to waring parties and conduct drone strikes across the region in order to stop Islamism spreading abroad.
Libya has been teetering on the edge of chaos for months after the eastern-based parliament rejected the unity government in Tripoli and appointed a rival administration.
In January, the LNA shut down state oil production and exports, costing Libya over $4billion, according to The Council of Foreign Relations.
The eastern-based parliament in February picked former interior minister Fathi Bashagha to replace the government of Abdulhamid Dbeibah.
Haftar and the LNA welcomed Bashagha’s appointment, while Dbeibah forms part of the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
But Dbeibah has refused to hand over power before elections, deepening the political crisis.
In its statement on Tuesday, UNSMIL warned that ‘the current political stalemate… cannot be resolved through armed confrontation.’
It called for an ‘immediate de-escalation’ said that ‘the use of force by any party is not acceptable’ and would not lead to international recognition.
The LNA launched an assault on Tripoli in April 2019 claimed military rule over eastern parts of the country the following year, though his campaign later stalled and he eventually agreed to peace.
The GNA discovered mass graves near the city of Tarhuna when the LNA pulled out of the area.
Haftar is loosely allied with the House of Representatives, a legislative body which rivals the UN-recognized government. It relocated to the eastern city of Tobruk when Islamist militias overran Tripoli.
Two civil wars have resulted in a pair of rival governments wrestling for political control of the country, though only the GNA is internationally recognized.