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An American Air Force veteran who was accused of acting as a mercenary in Libya has been freed after a six-week detention, officials said Tuesday, in a murky episode that highlights the tangled nature of that country’s civil war. Jamie Sponaugle, a 31-year-old Florida man, was piloting an aircraft near the Libyan capital of Tripoli on May 7 when his plane went down, according to officials and individuals familiar with the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Libyan National Army said it shot down the aircraft, which it said was a Mirage F1 combat jet piloted by a man The Washington Post is now identifying as Sponaugle, as it conducted bombing raids against LNA forces in the area. The Post withheld publication of Sponaugle’s detention at the request of U.S. officials who were working to secure his release.
“We are always pleased to see Americans held captive overseas returned home to their friends and family,” Ambassador Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s envoy for hostage affairs, said in a phone interview. “We appreciate his captors’ decision to release him. We also thank the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its role in resolving this case.”
Officials said that Sponaugle was flown on Tuesday to Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to meet with U.S. consular officials and undergo a medical and psychiatric examination. Neither the LNA nor the GNA provided an immediate comment.
According to an individual familiar with Sponaugle's case, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took an interest in the captive American once Saudi officials learned he was being detained, and asked subordinate officials to get involved. The Saudi government did not pay the LNA for his release, the individual said.
Sponaugle, whose identity as an American has not been previously reported, became an enlisted airman in 2006 and worked as a mechanic, Air Force officials said. After leaving active duty in 2013, he served in the Florida Air National Guard until late 2016. His last job as an active-duty airman was airspace technician, and his last duty station was MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
He was not a pilot in the Air Force but earned a pilot’s license following his active duty service.
Even after his release, U.S. officials do not have a clear understanding of what Sponaugle was doing in Libya. If Sponaugle was piloting a Mirage, a French-made fighter jet, he is unlikely to have had the kind of combat training that military pilots typically undergo because he was not a pilot in the Air Force.
It’s not clear whether Sponaugle would have violated U.S. law by working for or fighting in Libya. Many countries, including the United States, employ foreign security contractors, who can play a variety of roles and are sometimes armed. The GNA and the LNA have repeatedly accused each other of using foreign fighters.
The LNA said following Sponaugle’s capture that he — at a moment when he was still being identified as Portuguese — was being treated humanely and in accordance with international law. But U.S. officials remained concerned about his welfare as they spent weeks in discussions with LNA officials. Sponaugle’s father declined to comment when reached at his home before his son’s release.
originally posted by: worldstarcountry
An F1 Mirage was brought down south of Tripoli over a town called Al-Hirah. A PMC of unknown origin claims to be from Portugal with an alias of Jimmy Reese. Has a pretty cool tattoo on his back though. Are those Dragons fighting?? Quite fitting for the combat zone he is in.
originally posted by: schuyler
Jimmy Reese was a baseball player in the early 20th century. Tom Cruise used this alias in one of the Jack Reacher movies. Dollars to donuts this is where this guy got the name and used it.
originally posted by: TheTruthRocks
Something about this story smells funny.
You don't obtain a private pilot license and then instantly move to jet-powered aircraft (let alone military fighter jets)--I don't care how close to jets a person may have worked as an enlisted member of the military.
Here's a guy who reportedly was not a pilot in the military...he separates, gets his pilot license, and only a few short years later is flying an F1?
There are plenty (plenty) of qualified ex-fighter jocks on the gray market willing to do a hired-gun job like this.