in Defence / Features

Victims of the battle for Tripoli

Posted 2 June 2020 · Add Comment

The no-fly zone over Libya has already claimed victims, writes Jon Lake.

General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) shot down two ‘intruding’ UAVs in the days before it declared a ‘no-fly zone’ over Tripoli, as part of its campaign to seize control of the capital from the internationally recognised rival Government of National Accord (GNA), also known as the National Salvation Government.
The LNA prohibited flying in its no-fly zone, “without prior coordination with the General Command of the armed forces”.
Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, the capital’s only functioning airfield, was exempted for humanitarian reasons. Despite this exemption, the GNA said that any threat to civil aviation was a crime that would be punishable under international law.
Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been wracked by civil war, with two rival factions wrestling for control.
The GNA in Tripoli enjoys UN and international recognition, and is supported by Islamist militias and Turkish forces, while the LNA is supported by that part of the Libyan House of Representatives that meets in Tobruk, by Egypt and the UAE, and by Russian Wagner Group mercenaries.
With both sides using UAVs for reconnaissance and attack missions, it was perhaps inevitable that US and NATO unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft would be mistaken for enemy assets and would come under attack.
On November 20 last year, an Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Predator B was shot down while flying near Tarhuna, about 65km south-west of Tripoli.
LNA social media channels initially claimed to have shot down a Turkish drone operating in support of GNA-aligned forces, before the mistake was realised. The following day the US Air Force reported the loss of another unarmed remotely piloted aircraft over Tripoli.
The LNA subsequently apologised for shooting down the American drone and agreed to coordinate their operations over Tripoli and its surrounding areas to avoid similar incidents in the future.
The LNA have not had things all their own way. On December 7, an LNA AF MiG-23ML was shot down by Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) forces using a 9K32 Strela-2 (NATO reporting name SA-7 ‘Grail’) man-portable, shoulder-fired, low-altitude, infra-red (IR) guided, surface-to-air missile system.
The pilot, Major General Pilot Amer al-Jaqam al-Urfi, ejected but was captured by GNA-aligned fighters from the city of Zawiya.
 

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