Tag Archives: Benina

Free Libya's new airport: a mountain highway

Few days ago I published an article after seeing a picture that showed two single seat Mig-21bis and one double seat Mig-21UM flying over Benina airbase at the end of June. The image not only showed three of the four Mig-21s that were reported to have defected on Mar.17, but raised also some questions about the No-Fly Zone.

Someone wondered if preventing the Free Libya Air Force fighters from flying would have any sense if we consider that NATO and its coalition partners are (more or less….) there to help them. What I’ve explained them, is that the problem is strictly tied to the use of common procedures and to the prior coordination required to engage a densely populated airspace, as the Libyan NFZ, with fast jets: unless they know Transit Corridors, radio frequencies, transponder/IFF codes, etc., and are properly deconflicted, instead of being useful, FLAF plane could be extremely dangerous for other coalition planes. That’s why the NFZ applied to both pro-Gaddafi and rebel planes as the interception of a FLAF Mig-23 on Apr. 9 shows.

After discussing about the NFZ with Guido Olimpio, Corriere della Sera’s special correspondent from Washington DC, he sent me the following Reuters images that 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 stronghold south of Tripoli. The “runway” is quite narrow and only small transport planes, capable of taxing from unprepared aprons, can operate from it.

Since it is impossible to operate those flights without NATO’s approval, the photos, taken on Jul. 12, 2011, 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).

The most intriguing, and less likely/almost impossible theory, is that the Mig-21s are used to provide some kind of escort to the Air Libya BAe146 during the first part of its flight to Rhebat.

Air Libya is a privately owned company which operated charter flights in support of oil field operations and some charter services from Benina airport. (Photo: Reuters)

Picture taken near Benghazi raises question: is the Libyan No-Fly Zone active?

Thanks to a post on the ACIG.org forum, I found an article published on the Detroit Free Press titled “Obama acting lawfully on Libya, adviser says” that shows an extremely interesting picture of three FLAF (Free Libya Air Force) Mig-21s over Benina airport. The article was published on Jun. 29 and the picture was taken (according to the caption) on Jun.27.

Armed planes wearing the FLAF flag and roundel aside, what’s really interesting about this picture is that it clearly shows a violation of the No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya. In fact, as far as I know, the UNSCR established a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, rebel ones comprised.

This is not the first time that rebel aircraft violate the NFZ. Here you can read what I wrote about the Apr. 9, 2011 event, in my Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 22):

At 17.43 Al Jazeera English Libya Live Blog gave the news of a military helicopter with the Libyan rebel flag reportedly seen flying towards the fontline around Ajdabiya on Saturday despite a UN-imposed no-fly zone, showing also a nice picture by AFP of a Mi-24 clearly violating the NFZ (that, worth a remind, applies to both the rebel and governative planes). At 20.41, AJE reported of a Mig-23 flown by a rebel pilot, intercepted and forced to land back at Benina few minutes after take off. The aircraft, was immediately detected by a patrolling E-3 AWACS which directed one of the CAP flights to visually identify it. The Mig did not display any aggressive action and was simply led to land back at the airfield located to the south of Benghazi; the RoE usually require a prior visual contact with the “bogie” (in order to prevent friendly fire) but such violations could be extremely risky as “unannounced” rebel flights appearing on NATO’s radars could be easily mistaken for government planes and be shot down. The fact that they wear Free Libya flag is not enough to determine its intentions (what if the aircraft with the Free Libya Air Force roundel is flown by a pro-Gaddafi?).

Many fighters are still enforcing the NFZ while E-3 AWACS are still patrolling the Libyan airspace (read this interesting article that explains also the role played by the asset in the air strikes). Although it is possible that the three Mig-21s were performing a local sortie or a sort of flypast over Benina, the above picture raise a series of questions: is a NFZ still active? Is NATO able to prevent such violations? Did rebel planes receive a special authorization to perfom those  flights?