Tag Archives: Benghazi

This is the DC-3 plane the State Dept denied to Stevens and Security Support Team at U.S. Embassy in Libya

According to the CNN Security Clearance blog, the State Department denied a request by the security team at the U.S. Embassy in Libya for continued use of a DC-3 plane earlier this year.

Even if the presence of the white Dakota belonging to the DoS Air Wing (Department of State) would not have helped stopping the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11 the news that the diplomatic mission was denied the support of a plane (based on the assumptions that a special flight would have been chartered had it been necessary) raises questions over whether the State Dept. properly addressed security concerns and requests coming from the Embassy in Tripoli.

The DoS Air Wing provides a wide variety of missions, including reconnaissance and surveillance operations, command and Control for counter-narcotics operations, interdiction operations, logistical support, Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), personnel and cargo movement by air, aerial eradication of drug crops (currently only in Colombia).

Interestingly, the DoS DC-3 N707BA was often spotted at Malta, after the end of Operation Unified Protector.

The aircraft had been deployed to Iraq before being moved to Libya. When commercial flights were resumed to Tripoli and Benghazi, the aircraft was moved back “to other State Department business.”

Although quite obsolete (since it is based on a 1930s concept), the turboprop is quite effective because it is extremely efficient, reliable, requires little ground support and can operate also from unpaved runways.

That’s why the DoS, based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, still operate it on several known and clandestine missions across the world (including Afghanistan).

Image credit: Brendon Attard

B-52 bombers deployed to Europe (for an exercise) using a special radio callsign: the name of a Libyan city

Even if, during peacetime operations, radio callsigns used to identify military flights in radio communications with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies are usually squadron standards (Ghost Rider xxx, Panther xx, Bogey xx, Weasel xx, etc.) or picked among specific “patterns” (car types, animals, currencies, etc. – as done during exercises) under certain circumstances they can be chosen so as to celebrate specific events.

Last night, two U.S. B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on their way to the Czech Republic, where they will take part to the NATO Exercise Ramstein Rover, used a very special, never heard before, callsign: the two strategic bombers flew to Ostrava, where they landed on Sept. 18, using callsign “Tobruk 41″ and “Tobruk 42″.

I’m pretty sure that most of the readers of this blog don’t know that Tobruk is actually the name of a port city located on eastern Libya, near the border with Egypt. Tobruk is located slightly less than 400 km from Benghazi.

The two planes were not involved in any combat mission in response to the attack at the U.S. consulate that cost the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American officials. Nor they will if Washington decides to launch a strike against the Libyan jidahists whose camps are believed to be located in the desert of East Libya (since other assets would be used).

Still, I can’t believe that the 307th Bomb Wing/93rd Bomb Squadron used that callsign in place of the usual “Scalp”, by coincidence only.

Maybe the U.S. Air Force just wanted to send an indirect message to those listening the planes crossing the Pond on HF and UHF frequencies, that what has happened in Libya, will not be forgotten.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Most probably this is just a speculation, however the communication power of military radio callsigns should not be underestimated.

Anyway, AlertNewEngland has recorded a part of the radio comms and you can clearly hear “Tobruk 41″ calling.

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Drones may already be flying over Libya hunting insurgents who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi

Even if, citing U.S. officials, the CNN has just reported that unmanned aerial vehicles will begin flying over Benghazi in the next few days, American drones may already be flying surveillances flights over eastern Libya following the attack at the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by anti-U.S. mob.

The U.S. Air Force drones can be particularly useful to discover jihadi encampments and targets that may be tied to the attack to the Benghazi consulate.

CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reported that the proposal for use of drones could be approved shortly by the DoD and the White House, however, ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) have continued to take place over Northern Africa, where U.S. spyplanes, most probably looking for terrorists camps and smuggled weapons travelling towards Egypt, have been reported (and spotted) months after Operation Unified Protector had ended.

Since the first drones to operate in the Libyan airspace during 2011′s Air War were the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the US Air Force, based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, in Sicily, the main operating base of the NATO Air Ground Surveillance Global Hawk program, it is quite likely that, if not already flying high-altitude surveillance flights over eastern Libya, these will be the first UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) to seek and hunt insurgents.

Unless, the Pentagon decides to attack them once detected (instead of leaving them to the Libyan forces), as it happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen: in this case, the unarmed Global Hawks will have to be supported/replaced by weaponized Predator or Reaper drones like those that have already operated in Libya (taking part to the operation that led to the capture and death of Gaddafi).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Separated and on the ground behind the enemy lines in Libya: Strike Eagle crew recount their lucky escape

The two crew members from the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath UK have recently told CNN’s Barbara Starr of the night they found themselves separated and on the ground behind enemy lines in Libya.

The U.S. aerial bombing campaign over Libya was just two days old last March when F-15 pilot Maj. Kenneth Harney and Capt. Tyler Stark got their mission – conduct airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces near Benghazi.

[Read also: Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 4)]

Capt Stark was on his first combat mission and said to Starr “There’s obviously a little bit of nerves in the back of the stomach – it’s kind of like you’re going out for that big football or basketball game and you’re like, wow, this is it. This is the big leagues and I’m going to be flying in combat tonight.”

Harney and Stark took off from their temporary forward operating base at Aviano (Italy) and headed south out over the Med towards Libya and into the Benghazi area, they soon found targets and after releasing their final weapon of the sortie, they turned for Italy when, suddenly, Harney lost control of the Eagle which he described ”very much like if you were driving you’re car down the road and you hit a patch of ice and your car starts spinning. That’s exactly what our aircraft at that point was doing.”

Capt. Stark sat in the back described his thoughts at that point as “This is really happening?”

The aircraft falling Stark made his May Day calls and both pilots ejected which was described as s”carey but a life or death decision” once the survival instincts kick in the lever is pulled and the pilots are out of the aircraft.

The two men got separated once under the parachute and landed in different locations neither knowing if they had landed amongst Ghadaffi’s forces they had only moments ago been bombing,  Harney described his feelings once on the ground “I was scared. There’s no doubt in my mind that I was terrified”.

He spent the next several hours hiding trying not to be found by hostile forces whilst trying to contact friendly forces on his radio that is part of the survival kit all pilots take into combat. Harney was lucky and made contact, an Osprey from USS Kearsarge touched down to rescue the pilot, Harney ran towards the aircraft hands raised high so that the Marines knew he posed no threat. After being bundled into the Osprey rather unceremoniously the Osprey dusted off and returned with Harney back to the carrier.

Stark however was not so lucky, he found himself in a field with two vehicles heading to wards his location, shining lights in his hiding place, with little or no chance of escape, stark heard a voice in English saying: “American come out – we are here to help.” Stark described his actions as so ”I get up and put my hands up and start walking to the voice” he said. “Once I get there, my impression is, OK you have to assume that they are the bad guys.” He was driven to a near by building still not knowing if the forces were friendly or not.

Stark was taken into the building and found himself in front of a half circle of local people, he described his thoughts at that moment as  ”Either this is where the beatings are going to start or this is where I am going to get a lot of help. Fortunately I walked into the room and got a round of applause.”

He was safe, due to the stress and shear terror of the previous hour or so Stark couldn’t remember the number to call for help and with cell phones available the only number he could think of was that of his parents “So I called him up, spoke with my dad and said, ‘Hey, I need you to make a call for me.’” the Libyan people sheltered Stark until an Italian boat arrived to pick him up and take him back to safety.

This article raises a few questions of what could have happened to the Eagle. From photos released by media outlets soon after the jet crashed it was obvious there was little or no forward movement of the aircraft and appeared to have landed vertically. This is what made analysts think it was in a flat spin as the crew bailed out and was at some good altitude as they had time to send a may day call and spend time under the chute.

Also what becomes apparent is there is no damage to the jet nozzles at the rear therefore eliminating damage from a MANPAD missile or a heat seeking missile. A radar guided missile however wouldn’t strike the aircraft necessarily at the rear, and the photo’s from the Guardian article above reminded of the crashed hulks of the Mig 29’s shot down during the Balkan conflict during the 90’s victims of AMRAAM’s.

According to the investigation report the Eagle was lost when the pilot performed a manoeuvre outside of the aircrafts flight envelope (whilst unbalanced) which sent it into an un-recoverable spin (during a jinking manover after weapons release).

Above images: Richard Clements

The crews from Lakenheath regularly undertake intense training in very difficult terrain and certainly handle this beast of a jet with the highest degree of skill. Hence, the issue over Libya must have been catastrophic. And the tension inside the cockpit much higher than in a normal training flight, increasing the risk of pilot error.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 105 – 137)

Previous debriefings: Archive

Latest update: on Aug. 3, at 10.40LT, a missile exploded 2 km from the Italian frigate Bersagliere, that was patrolling the sea some 15 miles off Libya. According to the Italian MoD, it could be either a missile launched from the coast towards the ship or, more likely, a ballistic fired SAM missile that fell into the sea after missing any target. In both cases, the episode shows that Gaddafi forces still have weaponry to threaten NATO units.

More than one month has passed since my last Debrief on Unified Protector. I’ve already posted a couple of Libya-related articles since then, but here’s a quick recap of the most interesting things.

On Jul. 28, Abdel Fattah Younes, the rebel military chief who had defected from Gaddafi’s inner circle to the opposition, joining the “revolution” on Feb. 22, was shot dead in mysterious circumstances.

Rebel sources said that Younes had been recalled from the front line and placed under arrest to face questioning in Benghazi on suspicious that his family had contacts with the regime (even if there were also rumors that he was suspected of having held secret talks with Gaddafi’s government).  However, he never made it to the meeting and his body and those of two of his officers were found on the outskirts of Benghazi: they had been shot and their bodies burnt.

Younes, who had been a close associate of Gaddafi for more than 40 years after playing an active role in the 1969 coup that brought the raìs to the power, had clearly emerged as the rebel military chief, in spite of his close links to Gaddafi, in April, when he had also criticized NATO for being too slow against loyal forces and for attacking a rebel tank column near the eastern town of Brega where five people died and 14 were wounded.

Although, what really happened is still not clear, rebels have said that Gen. Younes was shot dead by militiamen allied in their war, raising questions about divisions and lawlessness within anti-Gaddafi ranks.

On the battlefield, fighting is still taking place close to the coastal town of Zlintan, in the Western Mountains, where rebels seized the town of Ghazaia . In the east, rebel forces fought loyalist in clashes against gunmen loyal to Gaddafi and agents who have infiltrated the rebel-held area.

Misratah is now enjoying relative security even if NATO has reported occasional shelling by pro-Gaddafi forces operating out of Tawurga, which is south of the town.

The shelling has focused on the port facilities and the airport, as well as the LISCO fuel storage facility.

The following Reuters map gives an idea of the fighting around Tripoli.

In the meanwhile, NATO air campaign continues with improving concerns of partner sides, some of which have already reduced, if not withdrawn, their contingents. For instance, the Charles De Gaulle and Garibaldi aircraft carriers returned home and, on Aug. 1, the RNoAF has in fact completed its mission. The problem is the sustainibility of an air campaign whose length is still unclear.

On Aug. 2 Press Briefing, Carmen Romero (NATO Deputy Spokesperson) said:

But we have always said that a military solution is not enough in Libya: there has to be a political solution to the crisis. Our military pressure is helping to set the conditions for a political solution. Meanwhile, the Qadhafi regime is increasingly isolated. The question is not if Qadhafi will have to step down, but when.

Since the beginning of the NATO operation (Mar. 31, 2011, 06.00GMT) a total of 17,443 sorties, including
6,590 strike sorties, have been conducted.

In the last few days, the air strike on three critical satellite dishes of the Libyan State TV made the news. According to NATO, the attack was aimed at reducing the regime’s ability to broadcast messages inciting attack on civilians. However, the Libyan State TV continued to broadcast and condemned the air strike saying that it caused three employees were killed and 15 were wounded.

Not only the Libyan TV has been attacked, but also the Tripoli airport’s radar that was used by Gaddafi forces to get early warning of allied air strikes.

We have entered the period of Ramadan and NATO has declared it will continue its air strike, as Colonel Roland Lavoie Operation, ‘’Unified Protector’’ military spokesperson, said.

NATO and partnering nations have a profound and sincere respect for Muslims and their faith. As we enter the holy month of Ramadan we are all reminded that we share a common respect for human life.

There’s never a wrong time to protect human life.

Other interesting information, things and thoughts:

1) As said, since Aug. 1, Norway has withdrawn its F-16s from Unified Protector. The decision has nothing to do with the Oslo and Utøya attacks, as it was taken on Jun. 10. RNoAF flew 596 missions with 6 F-16s deployed to Souda Bay.

2) Since Jul. 10, French Rafales were moved from Solenzara to Sigonella. Official explaination is that they are nearer to Libya, hence they can reduce transit time to the operative area. According to speculation the move was made to operate the French fighters next to the UAE contingent (flying from Sigonella with the F-16 and Mirage 2000), since UAE could be interested in the Rafale. Mirage 2000s deployed to Souda Bay returned home since they are no longer needed to enforce the NFZ (due to the lack of air threats).

3) The RAF has deployed 4 more Tornado GR4s to Gioia del Colle, bringing the total to 22 aiplanes: 16 Tornado GR4s and 6 Typhoons. The four additional “Tonkas” are mainly used for reconnaissance purposes using the Goodrich Raptor pod.

According to Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell, who spoke at the RIAT at RAF Fairford in mid July, the RAF contingent has performed 15% of all allied air strikes. However, he underlined that the 90% of RAF strike missions have been conducted against targets of opportunity, often located in urban areas, while other partners, like Italy and UAE have flown 100% of their attack sorties against pre-planned/fixed targets. Dealing with Italy, the decision to attack only fixed targets away from populated areas was taken at political level to prevent collateral damages.

4) After reporting many fuel diversions to Malta International Airport by the French fighters of all types (Rafale, Mirage 2000, Super Etendard, Mirage F1), during the last month, Luqa airfield was visited twice by RAF Tornados (one of which had to perform an emergency landing for a hydraulic failure) and once by a Danish F-16 on Jul. 29.

5) On Jul. 29 the Associated Press that on Jun. 29 published an article that disclosed that the Canadian CP-140 Aurora, a multi-purpose plane mostly used as an anti-submarine warfare platform has been employed, in combat, to perform PSYOPS: Interactive PSYOPS in Libya: the Canadian live benign propaganda messages prompt the listener to reply to the broadcaster.

6) Picture of two Mig-21bis and one double seat Mig-21UM flying over Benina airbase clearly showed a violation of the No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya. In fact, the UNSCR established a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, rebel ones comprised.

Many fighters are still enforcing the NFZ while E-3 AWACS are still patrolling the Libyan airspace so, unless common procedures are used and prior coordination is made to establish routes, control agencies, IFF squawks, etc, flying within the NFZ could be a risk for Free Libya Air Force fighters.

However, Reuters images taken on Jul.12 show an Air Libya BAe 146 used to link Benghazi with Rhebat, in the Nafusa region, a new airfield opened in the remote Western Mountain region.

Since it is impossible to operate those flights without NATO’s approval, these photos explain the reason why the Mig-21s were flying over Benina on Jun. 27: a limited rebel flight activity must have been granted to the rebels (probably in the form of a transit corridor between Benina and Rhebat).

7) Misratah airport opened again on Jul. 19 with a humanitarian flight flown by an AN-26 with registration 5A-DOG.

At this link, you can find a video of the Antonov 26 landing at Misratah airfield. The above screenshot was taken from that video.

8) Italy has initially withdrawn the Garibaldi, that returned to Taranto from where it managed the Italian ships involved in the Mediterranean Sea, then has deployed the AMX ACOL, a combat proven aircraft that has been operating in Afghanistan (although only for reconnaissance purposes) and has had its combat debut in 1999, in Serbia.

According to the official MoD press release, the AMXs belong to the 32° Stormo, based at Amendola. Since the same press release doesn’t mention the F-2000 Typhoons, most probably, these were replaced by the AMXs due to the total lack of air threats in the NFZ (as France did with its Mirages).

The Sole 24 ore financial newspaper published on Aug. 2 some previously unreleased figures about the Italian involvement in Unified Protector: with 1.700 sorties conducted to the date, Italy has flown the 10% of all the combat sorties in Libya, with an effort that is second only to UK and France.

9) With the AMX taking part to the air campaign, a new patch was designed by the air crews at Trapani, home of the Task Group Air, that includes all the ItAF assets assigned to Unified Protector. That’s actually a limited edition patch sold by the 18° Gruppo to raise funds for a Hospital in Africa. For more information, send an email to this address.

10) The Malta LiveATC.net feed was shut off towards the end of June. Officially, it was a computer problem, however, since the LMML airport was immediately removed from the list of airfields covered by the service, there are rumours that the local feeder was asked to cease “relaying” Malta ACC and TWR comms to the rest of the world using the web. OPSEC or INFOSEC concern?