A fighter pilot who was shot down and captured by the forces of one of the rivals of the Libyan government was revealed as a veteran of the United States Air Force. US media identified Jamie Sponaugle after his release facilitated by Saudi Arabia and Prince Bin Salman.
Sponaugle was captured by the Libyan National Army (LNA), the military force loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, allegedly after his F1 Mirage was shot down near the capital, Tripoli, on May 7.
The LNA said that the man was carrying out bombings against his troops in the name of the Government of the National Accord of Libya (GNA), internationally recognized, and accused him of being a mercenary. The true identity of the pilot, who was previously reported as a Portuguese citizen, was first broken by the Washington Post and then confirmed by CNN.
The images of a bloody Sponaugle were published by the LNA shortly after his capture, but at that time it was presumed that he was a Portuguese citizen, named Jimmy Rees. According to The Post, Sponaugle enlisted as an aviator in 2006 and worked as a mechanic until 2013.
He then worked in the Florida Air National Guard before retiring at the end of 2016. The newspaper says he had no pilot training and that EE officials could not explain what he was doing in Libya.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) captures 29-year-old Jimmy Reiss, a Portuguese mercenary pilot, who was flying a Mirage F1 warplane of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) before it was shot down by LNA this morning.#Libya #LibyaNews #LNA #GNA #Tripoli pic.twitter.com/LgSxvNA22R
— The Libyan Address Journal (@LibyanAddressJo) May 7, 2019
Sponaugle was released from captivity with the help of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally, according to the report, noting that the Saudis did not pay for his release. On Tuesday, the American traveled by plane to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with US diplomatic officials and he will undergo medical tests.
Task and purpose gave a somewhat different service record for Sponaugle, as well as a list of merits indicating deployments to Iran and South Korea and participation in nuclear deterrence operations of the US Air Force.
Libya remains fractured since the 2011 NATO bombing campaign, which helped anti-government militants to topple and kill longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Sponaugle was captured in the middle of an offensive operation launched by Haftar forces in April. The general said he was trying to free the capital from militias that destabilized the country.