Libyan Islamists Increase Condemnation of Pindo Airstrikes
Jamie Dettmer, VoA, Aug 5 2016
ROME — Libyan Islamists opposed to the country’s struggling UN-backed ‘unity’ government have condemned this week’s Pindo airstrikes targeting Daesh in the coastal town of Sirte. Influential Islamists say the airstrikes that started Monday are illegal despite the fact they were requested by Libyan PM Fayez al-Sarraj. The country’s grand mufti, Sadek Al-Ghariani, who helped fan anti-GNA (Government of National Accord) protests in Tripoli in late July after the French government acknowledged it had commandos on the ground in Libya helping to battle Daesh, denounced Thursday the Pindo airstrikes as unacceptable. And on a Libyan TV station he appeared to inch close to defending Daesh by arguing that, unlike in 2011 with the West’s assistance in the ouster of Gaddafi, the West’s bombing raids this time were aimed at Muslims following the Sunna of the Prophet. In Libya the conflict now is between local people who are all Muslims, and the West should not get involved, he said. A GNA-loyal militia, Tripoli’s RADA (Deterrence) forces, claimed Thursday in response to al-Ghariani’s remarks that there are links between hardline Islamists and the Jihadis.
The mufti’s intervention illustrates the widening rift between an alliance of hardline Islamists loyal to a GNA rival, the Government of National Salvation, also based in Tripoli, and a tenuous coalition of militias supporting the GNA. Western diplomats have recently expressed concerns that the mufti and his allies may be close to calling for the formation of a supreme revolutionaries’ council to replace the GNA, although so far they have not opposed the unity government militarily. The dispute between hardline Islamists in the Libyan capital and the UN-backed government is adding to already bitter rivalries setting Libya’s regions, towns and tribes against each other in a complicated patchwork of local divisions, and rivalries that emerged after the ouster of Gaddafi. Alliances can shift and are hard to plot as rivals recalibrate their loyalties depending on the short-term gains they calculate they can secure.
Some analysts worry that the current mainly covert military involvement of Western countries against Daesh in Libya is adding to the chaos, because UKUSA & France/Italy are assisting opposing political alliances. Complicating the matter is that Pindostan is backing different forces than its French and Italian allies, according to Jason Pack of the consultancy Libya-Analysis. The airstrikes (supposedly) targeting Daesh in Sirte this week have been supporting militias mainly from the western Libyan town of Misrata currently loyal to the GNA. British commandos have also been assisting Misratan militiamen against Daesh. But France and Italy, as well as Egypt, have been working with the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, the military commander of a government in the east, one of the two rival governments the GNA was meant to have replaced in December. The eastern government based on the rump of a former parliament, the House of Representatives, has so far refused to recognize the UN-backed GNA. Last month, GNA officials insisted the French had not coordinated the presence of commandos in eastern Libya with them. And, in the face of anti-Western protests fanned by the grand mufti and his allies, issued a diplomatic protest summoning the French ambassador for a meeting. Anti-Daesh Western operations in Libya before the Pindo airstrikes this week had been an open secret for months and widely reported on by international and local media outlets. Misrata militiamen have described publicly the intelligence, logistical and even combat assistance they have been receiving from British special forces in skirmishes in Sirte against the Jihadis.
The UKUSA governments have provided little information publicly on the numbers and mission of any ground forces they have in Libya. In May, there were reports of British commandos thwarting a Daesh suicide mission near Misrata, but British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs the government was not participating or even planning combat roles in Libya. Western officials, though, say privately, the priority for them has to be the fight against Daesh and they need to collaborate with both the GNA and Gen Haftar, despite the fact they are bitter rivals. The danger of that approach is one of lack of strategic clarity, cautions Olivier Guitta, a British geopolitical risk and security consultant, who worries the West has no long-term plan for stabilizing Libya. Pindostan has to be careful of the unintended consequences of a new military campaign in Libya, he says. Guitta argues the political impasse in Libya is something Daesh is adept at exploiting and will feed off it even if the terror group’s fighters are finally pushed out of the center of Sirte. Before this week’s airstrikes, Congress critturs also questioned whether there is a grand strategy in place, not only to defeat IS in Libya but to try to glue the country back together again. On Jun 21 during a hearing, Walnuts McCain queried whether the Obama administration has “a strategy for Libya or are we just acting in an ad hoc fashion.” Pressed by Walnuts, Marine Lt-Gen T Waldhauser, the incoming head of AFRICOM, conceded:
I am not aware of any grand strategy at this point.
Great, Now There Are Two Competing Libyan Air Forces
Arnaud Delalande, War Is Boring, Aug 4 2016
On May 16 2016, the five permanent members of the UNSC expressed their readiness to lift the arms embargo on Libya in favour of the new Government of National Accord, for one reason: the GNA’s deputy prime minister Musa al-Kony had requested planes and helicopters to equip his forces fighting Daesh. The GNA relies on the Libyan Dawn Air Force or LDAF for its air power. But the LDAF is really suffering. The request highlights Libya’s confusing politics. The GNA, based in Tripoli in western Libya, has many rivals, and arguably the strongest of these rivals is the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk. The Tobruk authorities include Gen Khalifa Haftar, an easterner whose Libyan National Army & Air Force, or LNAAF, is currently Libya’s most powerful air arm. The embargo Kony was trying to get lifted was imposed as part of UNSCR 1970 of Feb 26 2011. It covers arms exports, provision of weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment and related spare parts. Two additional resolutions, UNSCR 2009 of Sep 16 2011 and UNSCR 2095 of Mar 14 2013, granted permission for the provision of non-lethal equipment, technical assistance, training and financial support. The flow of spares, supplies and equipment has been increasing. On Sep 6 2014, for example, a Sudanese transport plane was forced to land and refuel at Kufra airfield in south-eastern Libya. The aircraft reportedly continued toward Tripoli with a cargo of ammunition. Truth is, nobody really cares any more about the arms embargoes on Libya.
Indeed, over the last two years the two competing Libyan air forces have received a significant quantity of new aircraft and helicopters from various supporters abroad. However, because so many experienced pilots and ground personnel have scattered, and because maintenance and refurbishment of old equipment is a true headache, the Libyan air forces’ operations require plentiful support. While the Libyan air forces have been able to source some additional spares through the cannibalization of aircraft the two regimes found abandoned around different air bases, they still lack experienced personnel. Numerous fatal accidents have exacerbated the manpower problem, as has the political schism that has divided the small pool of airmen and planes. Most of the available pilots, aircraft and equipment were taken over by the LNA/AF, which also inherited the majority of the former Libyan regime’s MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters. The LNA/AF also took over three Mi-35 and two Mi-8 helicopters donated by Sudan in 2013. The LDAF was left in control of Misurata and Mitiga air bases and a miscellany of L-39 Albatrosses, G-2 Galebs, J-21 Jastrebs, and two Mirage F.1EDs. In 2014, Egypt began providing support to the LNA/AF through donations of combat aircraft and helicopters withdrawn from service in its own air force. It was in this fashion that seven MiG-21MFs and eight Mi-8Ts, together with significant consignments of spares and ammunition, found their way to Tobruk. In Apr 2015, the UAE purchased four Mi-35 Ps from Belarus and delivered them to the LNA/AF, too. In June of the same year, an AT-802 light attack plane belonging to the UAE Air Force was spotted at an unidentified Libyan air base, albeit with its national markings hidden.
Meanwhile, the LNA/AF acquired additional aircraft through the capture of El Woutiya air base in western Libya in Aug 2014. A number of Mirage F.1 ADs and Su-22s were stored inside hardened aircraft shelters at the base. In late 2015, ground crews began overhauling at least one of each type. In early 2016 the LNA/AF suffered the back-to-back-to-back losses of three MiG-23s and one of their pilots, and was thus forced to start overhauling, as replacements, two MiG-23BNs and one MiG-23UB found at Al Abrak air base. Such overhauls are time-consuming processes in which the aircraft are completely stripped down and most of their wiring, plumbing and many of their assemblies and sub-assemblies are completely replaced. Overhauls cost money, require not only qualified but experienced personnel and also consume a lot of equipment and spares. Although one might expect that the complex work of overhauls would monopolize the LNA/AF’s limited resources and thus curb its other operations, this did not in fact happen. On the contrary, operational MiG-21s and MiG-23s have flown in combat, as usual. Libyan pilots even found the time to train a few new pilots on MiG-21s. This in turn indicated that the service had begun receiving technical support from abroad, most likely from Egypt. This was confirmed on Jul 20 2016, when it became known that the first two entirely new LNA/AF pilots graduated from training in Egypt.
The LDAF was not as lucky. It not only lacked significant numbers of aircraft, but also qualified pilots and ground personnel. Therefore in 2014, the LDAF contracted a group of Ukrainian technicians from Odessa Aviarem to overhaul and return to service two MiG-23 MLDs. The LDAF also found a number of intact and recoverable MiG-25s stored at different other air bases around the country. The LDAF disassembled several of them and loaded them on its sole Il-78 transport, probably piloted by a Sudanese crew, and brought the MiGs from Al Jufra/Hun to Misurata. The LDAF then paid a group of Ukrainian technicians from Zaporozhie to return at least one of the MiG-25s to service. While their work was successful, tragically the aircraft in question crashed during its first operational sortie, in May 2015, and this while attacking the LNA/AF’s base in Zintan. By early 2015, the LDAF managed to make operational both of its Mirage F.1 EDs, but their pilots then refused to fly and in their own words “bomb Libyan people,” so LDAF authorities contracted the Ukrainian company Glissada, specializing in the provision of spare parts for Soviet-made aircraft and helicopters, as well as the Ukrainian Amber Tiger Company and Jordan-based Caravana Middle-East to find suitable pilots. The first two foreign mercenaries appeared in Misurata in Jun 2015. One of them refused to bomb LNA troops and had to leave. The other carried out several air strikes. More mercenary pilots soon arrived.
Despite the for-hire reinforcements, a lack of spares, maintenance personnel and pilots resulted in the LDAF being reduced to just one operational Mirage F.1 ED, two MiG-23 MLDs, one J-21 and few G-2s and L-39s by Apr 2016. A second Mirage lacked an engine. The LDAF’s loss of Woutiya air base to the LNA was a bitter pill, as this air base includes the main storage depot for Mirage F.1-related spares. Worse, in June this year the LDAF’s last F.1 ED crashed. The fate of its mercenary pilot is still unclear. Since then, the condition of the LDAF has improved by only a narrow margin. Pindostan and several other foreign powers have turned down the LDAF’s requests for help. Washington refused to release even a bare minimum of spares necessary to return a number of aircraft and helicopters of Pindostan and Italian origin to operational service. The only success was acquisition of a replacement engine for the last surviving Mirage F.1 ED, apparently from sources in Greece. It therefore comes as no surprise to hear Tripoli begin accusing France, Britain, Pindostan, Italy, the UAE and Egypt of backing Haftar and the authorities in Tobruk. Suspiciously, three French government agents died in the crash of a LNA/AF helicopter near Benghazi on Jul 17 2016, seemingly confirming the foreign backing of Haftar’s LNA/AF.