The US military has accused Russian air defences of shooting down a drone that was lost close to the capital of Libya last month.

The drone was reportedly conducting a reconnaissance mission within the region amid ongoing clashes between Libyan factions fighting to seize control of Tripoli.

Fears have grown in recent weeks over the scale of Moscow’s involvement in the country’s civil war, which has been raging since 2014 and claimed thousands of lives, with Russian mercenaries said to be aiding commander Khalifa Haftar and his so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) in their attempts to capture the capital.

Download the new Indpendent Premium app

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

US army general Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa Command, has now voiced deep concern about Russia’s apparent presence in Libya as he demanded the return of the drone wreckage.

He admitted that those operating the air defences “didn’t know it was a US remotely piloted aircraft when they fired on it”, but added “they certainly know who it belongs to now”.

Shape Created with Sketch.
World news in pictures

Shape Created with Sketch.
World news in pictures

1/50 8 December 2019

People gather amidst the ruins of a building, destroyed during reported Syrian regime and Russian air strikes the previous day in the town of Balyun in the south of Syria’s Idlib province, that killed at least nine civilians including three children and wounding several others. – The reported air raids killed 19 civilians, eight of them children, in the country’s last major opposition bastion.

2/50 6 December 2019

People stand on top of a collapsed six-storey building in Nairobi, Kenya. Local media reported that several people are feared trapped as the rescue operation continues

3/50 5 December 2019

A man wearing a clown mask and waving a smoke bomb takes part in a demonstration to protest against the pension overhauls, in Marseille, southern France, as part of a national general strike. France scrambled to make contingency plans on for a huge strike against pension overhauls that poses one of the biggest challenges yet to French President’s sweeping reform drive

4/50 5 December 2019

Southeast Asian Games, Vietnam v Indonesia, Women’s Volleyball Preliminary Round – Philsports Arena, Pasig, Philippines

5/50 4 December 2019

Firefighters work to contain a large fire at an industrial building at Inlet Road inn Auckland, New Zealand

6/50 3 December 2019

Doan Quynh Nam Tran of Vietnam competes in the women’s gymnastics at the SEA Games (Southeast Asian Games) in Manila

7/50 2 December 2019

A youth plays on foamy discharge, caused by pollutants, as it mixes with the surf at a beach in Chennai

8/50 1 December 2019

Southeast Asian Games at the Royce Hotel, Mabalacat, Philippines. Vietnam’s Pham Hong Anh in action during her single dance final.

9/50 30 November 2019

A woman holds a coloured flag at the Botswana Pride Parade in Gaborone. The parade is the first one organised in Botswana, after the Court ruled on June 11 in favour of decriminalising homosexuality, which had been punishable by a jail term of up to seven years.

10/50 29 November 2019

A child holds a placard during a ‘drop dead’ flashmob protest against climate change consequences at Lumpini Park in Bangkok, Thailand

11/50 28 November 2019

Pro-democracy protesters hold an SOS sign and US national flags during a Thanksgiving rally in Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong. Protesters were thanking US President Donald Trump for signing into a law ‘The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act Hong Kong’, provoking an angry backlash from the Chinese government. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement

12/50 27 November 2019

Rescuers with a dog search through the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Durres, western Albania

13/50 26 November 2019

A shepherd leads a flock of sheep on a pontoon bridge in Allahabad

14/50 25 November 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a female company belonging to 5492 troops

15/50 24 November 2019

A protester jumps between burning tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq

16/50 23 November 2019

Fans dressed as Star Wars characters during day three of the first Test between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba in Australia

17/50 22 November 2019

Pope Francis speaks with religious leaders during a meeting at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand

18/50 21 November 2019

A girl injured in last night’s attack by the Syrian regime on a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border in Idlib, Syria is held up to the camera

19/50 20 November 2019

Indian paramilitary soldiers detain a Congress party supporter during a protest against the withdrawal of Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to party president Sonia Gandhi, her children and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in New Delh. The move to lift off the SPG security, an elite force that protects prime ministers and their immediate families, led to sharp reactions from the Congress, which accused the government of personal vendetta

20/50 19 November 2019

An image taken from a plane window shows Sydney shrouded in smoke from nearby bush fires

21/50 18 November 2019

Protesters run for cover after riot police fired tear gas towards the bridge they were climbing down to the road below, to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dozens escaped the besieged campus by lowering themselves on a rope from a footbridge to a highway. Once on the road they were seen being picked up by waiting motorcyclists

22/50 17 November 2019

Anti-government protesters draped in Iraqi national flags walk into clouds of smoke from burning tires during a demonstration in the southern city of Basra, Iraq

23/50 16 November 2019

A protester wearing a yellow jacket waves a French flag in a fountain during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the “yellow vests” movement in Nice, France

24/50 15 November 2019

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces amid clashes following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum

25/50 14 November 2019

A patient suffering from dengue fever receives medical treatment at an isolation ward at a hospital in Larkana, Pakistan. According to local reports, 26 deaths have been reported out of a total of 10,013 confirmed cases of dengue infection. Dengue fever is reportedly caused by a specific type of mosquito, the Aedes mosquito, that bites only during daytime, especially during sunrise and sunset.

26/50 13 November 2019

An anti-government protester flashes the V-sign for victory in front of burning tyres used to block a main road at the entrance of Tripoli. The previous night, street protests erupted across Lebanon after President Michel Aoun defended the role of his allies, the Shiite movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon’s government, cutting off several major roads. In his televised address, Aoun proposed a government that includes both technocrats and politicians

27/50 12 November 2019

An Israeli missile launching from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells. They were sent up to intercept rockets launched from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip. Israel’s military killed a commander for Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a strike on his home, prompting retaliatory rocket fire and fears of a severe escalation in violence

28/50 11 November 2019

A species of deer thought to be extinct, the chevrotain, has been spotted for the first time in 30 years in the wilds of Vietnam. The deer is around the size of a domestic cat

29/50 10 November 2019

The royal motorcade of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, under tight security, passes through a street in Tokyo. Thousands of people gathered for the rare open-top car parade featuring the newly enthroned Emperor

30/50 9 November 2019

People knock over a mock-up of the former Berlin Wall during a performance prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match Hertha BSC Berlin v RB Leipzig on the 30 anniversary of the fall off the wall

31/50 8 November 2019

Flames from an out of control bushfire from a nearby residential area in Harrington, northeast of Sydney. Australian firefighters warned they were in “uncharted territory” as they struggled to contain dozens of out-of-control bushfires across the east of the country

32/50 7 November 2019

Demonstrators shine lasers during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago, the capital

33/50 6 November 2019

Activists from India’s main opposition Congress party shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest against what the activists say is economic slowdown in the country, in Guwahati, India

34/50 5 November 2019

Smoke rises from a fire in downtown Lagos, Nigeria. Firefighters worked hard to try and extinguish a fire at the Balogun market. Thick black smoke and flames shot from the five-story buildings as fire trucks attempted to get access

35/50 4 November 2019

Women run down a sand dune as they take part in the desert trek “Rose Trip Maroc” in the erg Chebbi near Merzouga. It is a female-oriented trek where teams of three must travel through the southern Moroccan Sahara desert with a compass, a map and a topographical reporter

36/50 3 November 2019

Riot police descend an escalator inside the City Plaza mall in Hong Kong after a bloody knife fight wounded six people there. A local pro-democracy politician had his ear bitten off during another chaotic day of political unrest in the city

37/50 2 November 2019

People participate in the celebration of the ‘muerteadas de Jalapa del Valle’, as part of the Day of the Dead in Mexico

38/50 1 November 2019

Firefighters work to control flames from a backfire during the Maria fire in Santa Paula, California

39/50 31 October 2019

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, over the Vestrahorn mountain in the east of Iceland

40/50 30 October 2019

A model presents a creation at the show Heaven Gaia by Xiong Ying during the China Fashion Week in Beijing. The fashion event runs from 25 October to 2 November

41/50 29 October 2019

Hindu devotees collect rice as offerings on ‘Annakut’ or ‘Govardhan Puja’ festival at the Madan Mohan temple in Kolkata. People in large numbers gather at the temple to collect the rice offerings in the belief that it will keep them in good health and they’ll never face poverty or scarcity of food

42/50 28 October 2019

Authorities investigate after a Port Authority bus was caught in a sinkhole in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

43/50 27 October 2019

South Africa players celebrate after beating Wales in their Rugby World Cup semi-final match. The Springboks will face England in next Saturday’s final following fly-half Handre Pollard’s match-winning penalty four minutes from time. The match ended 19-16

44/50 26 October 2019

Participants from Thailand pose in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as they take part in the annual gay pride parade in Taipei. Some two hundred thousand revellers marched through Taipei in a riot of rainbow colours and celebration as Taiwan held its first pride parade since making history in Asia by legalising gay marriage

45/50 25 October 2019

A girl enjoys a ball bath as she is being photographed at the made-for-Instagram museum ‘Cali Dreams’ in Dusseldorf, Germany. No artworks are shown in this museum, rather each visitor himself becomes an artwork by staging himself in front of one of the 25 sceneries. Cali Dreams is initially open for three months. After this test phase, however, the museum is planned as a long-term project

46/50 24 October 2019

A fire lorry speeds towards a rampant wildfire near Geyserville, California

47/50 23 October 2019

Protesters facing Lebanese army soldiers wave national flags in the area of Jal al-Dib in the northern outskirts of Beirut. A week of unprecedented street protests against the political class showed no signs of abating, despite the army moving to reopen key roads. Protests were sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other messaging apps

48/50 22 October 2019

Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters beside his wife Sophie after the federal election at the Palais des Congres in Montreal. He managed to hold on to power, albeit of a minority government, in one of the most divisive elections in the country’s history

49/50 21 October 2019

A convoy of US vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq

50/50 20 October 2019

Japan players go over to thank their fans after South Africa beat them in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup. Makazole Mapimpi double ended the hosts’ dreams in Tokyo 3-26. The Springboks will now face Wales in the semi-finals for a place in the final

1/50 8 December 2019

People gather amidst the ruins of a building, destroyed during reported Syrian regime and Russian air strikes the previous day in the town of Balyun in the south of Syria’s Idlib province, that killed at least nine civilians including three children and wounding several others. – The reported air raids killed 19 civilians, eight of them children, in the country’s last major opposition bastion.

2/50 6 December 2019

People stand on top of a collapsed six-storey building in Nairobi, Kenya. Local media reported that several people are feared trapped as the rescue operation continues

3/50 5 December 2019

A man wearing a clown mask and waving a smoke bomb takes part in a demonstration to protest against the pension overhauls, in Marseille, southern France, as part of a national general strike. France scrambled to make contingency plans on for a huge strike against pension overhauls that poses one of the biggest challenges yet to French President’s sweeping reform drive

4/50 5 December 2019

Southeast Asian Games, Vietnam v Indonesia, Women’s Volleyball Preliminary Round – Philsports Arena, Pasig, Philippines

5/50 4 December 2019

Firefighters work to contain a large fire at an industrial building at Inlet Road inn Auckland, New Zealand

6/50 3 December 2019

Doan Quynh Nam Tran of Vietnam competes in the women’s gymnastics at the SEA Games (Southeast Asian Games) in Manila

7/50 2 December 2019

A youth plays on foamy discharge, caused by pollutants, as it mixes with the surf at a beach in Chennai

8/50 1 December 2019

Southeast Asian Games at the Royce Hotel, Mabalacat, Philippines. Vietnam’s Pham Hong Anh in action during her single dance final.

9/50 30 November 2019

A woman holds a coloured flag at the Botswana Pride Parade in Gaborone. The parade is the first one organised in Botswana, after the Court ruled on June 11 in favour of decriminalising homosexuality, which had been punishable by a jail term of up to seven years.

10/50 29 November 2019

A child holds a placard during a ‘drop dead’ flashmob protest against climate change consequences at Lumpini Park in Bangkok, Thailand

11/50 28 November 2019

Pro-democracy protesters hold an SOS sign and US national flags during a Thanksgiving rally in Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong. Protesters were thanking US President Donald Trump for signing into a law ‘The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act Hong Kong’, provoking an angry backlash from the Chinese government. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement

12/50 27 November 2019

Rescuers with a dog search through the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Durres, western Albania

13/50 26 November 2019

A shepherd leads a flock of sheep on a pontoon bridge in Allahabad

14/50 25 November 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a female company belonging to 5492 troops

15/50 24 November 2019

A protester jumps between burning tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq

16/50 23 November 2019

Fans dressed as Star Wars characters during day three of the first Test between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba in Australia

17/50 22 November 2019

Pope Francis speaks with religious leaders during a meeting at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand

18/50 21 November 2019

A girl injured in last night’s attack by the Syrian regime on a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border in Idlib, Syria is held up to the camera

19/50 20 November 2019

Indian paramilitary soldiers detain a Congress party supporter during a protest against the withdrawal of Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to party president Sonia Gandhi, her children and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in New Delh. The move to lift off the SPG security, an elite force that protects prime ministers and their immediate families, led to sharp reactions from the Congress, which accused the government of personal vendetta

20/50 19 November 2019

An image taken from a plane window shows Sydney shrouded in smoke from nearby bush fires

21/50 18 November 2019

Protesters run for cover after riot police fired tear gas towards the bridge they were climbing down to the road below, to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dozens escaped the besieged campus by lowering themselves on a rope from a footbridge to a highway. Once on the road they were seen being picked up by waiting motorcyclists

22/50 17 November 2019

Anti-government protesters draped in Iraqi national flags walk into clouds of smoke from burning tires during a demonstration in the southern city of Basra, Iraq

23/50 16 November 2019

A protester wearing a yellow jacket waves a French flag in a fountain during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the “yellow vests” movement in Nice, France

24/50 15 November 2019

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces amid clashes following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum

25/50 14 November 2019

A patient suffering from dengue fever receives medical treatment at an isolation ward at a hospital in Larkana, Pakistan. According to local reports, 26 deaths have been reported out of a total of 10,013 confirmed cases of dengue infection. Dengue fever is reportedly caused by a specific type of mosquito, the Aedes mosquito, that bites only during daytime, especially during sunrise and sunset.

26/50 13 November 2019

An anti-government protester flashes the V-sign for victory in front of burning tyres used to block a main road at the entrance of Tripoli. The previous night, street protests erupted across Lebanon after President Michel Aoun defended the role of his allies, the Shiite movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon’s government, cutting off several major roads. In his televised address, Aoun proposed a government that includes both technocrats and politicians

27/50 12 November 2019

An Israeli missile launching from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells. They were sent up to intercept rockets launched from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip. Israel’s military killed a commander for Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a strike on his home, prompting retaliatory rocket fire and fears of a severe escalation in violence

28/50 11 November 2019

A species of deer thought to be extinct, the chevrotain, has been spotted for the first time in 30 years in the wilds of Vietnam. The deer is around the size of a domestic cat

29/50 10 November 2019

The royal motorcade of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, under tight security, passes through a street in Tokyo. Thousands of people gathered for the rare open-top car parade featuring the newly enthroned Emperor

30/50 9 November 2019

People knock over a mock-up of the former Berlin Wall during a performance prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match Hertha BSC Berlin v RB Leipzig on the 30 anniversary of the fall off the wall

31/50 8 November 2019

Flames from an out of control bushfire from a nearby residential area in Harrington, northeast of Sydney. Australian firefighters warned they were in “uncharted territory” as they struggled to contain dozens of out-of-control bushfires across the east of the country

32/50 7 November 2019

Demonstrators shine lasers during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago, the capital

33/50 6 November 2019

Activists from India’s main opposition Congress party shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest against what the activists say is economic slowdown in the country, in Guwahati, India

34/50 5 November 2019

Smoke rises from a fire in downtown Lagos, Nigeria. Firefighters worked hard to try and extinguish a fire at the Balogun market. Thick black smoke and flames shot from the five-story buildings as fire trucks attempted to get access

35/50 4 November 2019

Women run down a sand dune as they take part in the desert trek “Rose Trip Maroc” in the erg Chebbi near Merzouga. It is a female-oriented trek where teams of three must travel through the southern Moroccan Sahara desert with a compass, a map and a topographical reporter

36/50 3 November 2019

Riot police descend an escalator inside the City Plaza mall in Hong Kong after a bloody knife fight wounded six people there. A local pro-democracy politician had his ear bitten off during another chaotic day of political unrest in the city

37/50 2 November 2019

People participate in the celebration of the ‘muerteadas de Jalapa del Valle’, as part of the Day of the Dead in Mexico

38/50 1 November 2019

Firefighters work to control flames from a backfire during the Maria fire in Santa Paula, California

39/50 31 October 2019

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, over the Vestrahorn mountain in the east of Iceland

40/50 30 October 2019

A model presents a creation at the show Heaven Gaia by Xiong Ying during the China Fashion Week in Beijing. The fashion event runs from 25 October to 2 November

41/50 29 October 2019

Hindu devotees collect rice as offerings on ‘Annakut’ or ‘Govardhan Puja’ festival at the Madan Mohan temple in Kolkata. People in large numbers gather at the temple to collect the rice offerings in the belief that it will keep them in good health and they’ll never face poverty or scarcity of food

42/50 28 October 2019

Authorities investigate after a Port Authority bus was caught in a sinkhole in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

43/50 27 October 2019

South Africa players celebrate after beating Wales in their Rugby World Cup semi-final match. The Springboks will face England in next Saturday’s final following fly-half Handre Pollard’s match-winning penalty four minutes from time. The match ended 19-16

44/50 26 October 2019

Participants from Thailand pose in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as they take part in the annual gay pride parade in Taipei. Some two hundred thousand revellers marched through Taipei in a riot of rainbow colours and celebration as Taiwan held its first pride parade since making history in Asia by legalising gay marriage

45/50 25 October 2019

A girl enjoys a ball bath as she is being photographed at the made-for-Instagram museum ‘Cali Dreams’ in Dusseldorf, Germany. No artworks are shown in this museum, rather each visitor himself becomes an artwork by staging himself in front of one of the 25 sceneries. Cali Dreams is initially open for three months. After this test phase, however, the museum is planned as a long-term project

46/50 24 October 2019

A fire lorry speeds towards a rampant wildfire near Geyserville, California

47/50 23 October 2019

Protesters facing Lebanese army soldiers wave national flags in the area of Jal al-Dib in the northern outskirts of Beirut. A week of unprecedented street protests against the political class showed no signs of abating, despite the army moving to reopen key roads. Protests were sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other messaging apps

48/50 22 October 2019

Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters beside his wife Sophie after the federal election at the Palais des Congres in Montreal. He managed to hold on to power, albeit of a minority government, in one of the most divisive elections in the country’s history

49/50 21 October 2019

A convoy of US vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq

50/50 20 October 2019

Japan players go over to thank their fans after South Africa beat them in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup. Makazole Mapimpi double ended the hosts’ dreams in Tokyo 3-26. The Springboks will now face Wales in the semi-finals for a place in the final

“They are refusing to return it,” Gen Townsend told Reuters. “They say they don’t know where it is but I am not buying it. 

“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.”

US defence secretary Mark Esper declined this week 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.

An official in Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which serves as the country’s interim government under a UN-led initiative established in 2015, told the Reuters news agency that Russian mercenaries appeared to be responsible.

The US assessment meanwhile concludes that either Russian private military contractors or Haftar-led forces were operating the air defences at the time the drone was reported lost on 21 November, according to Africa Command spokesperson Christopher Karns.

Independent news email

Only the best news in your inbox



Please enter an email address
Email address is invalid
Fill out this field
Email address is invalid
Email already exists. Log in to update your newsletter preferences



Register with your social account or click here to log in



Mohammed Ali Abdallah, adviser for US affairs in Libya’s GNA, said the US drone had come down near the pro-LNA stronghold of Tarhuna, 40 miles south-east of Tripoli.

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

“Only the Russians have that ability – and they were operating where it happened,” Mr Abdallah told 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.”

Fighters loyal to the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) gather during clashes with Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Tripoli’s Ain Zara suburb (Getty)

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

Russian authorities deny using contractors in any foreign military theatre and say Russian civilians who may be fighting abroad are volunteers. The LNA denies it has foreign backing.

Additional reporting by Reuters