By Hadi Fornaji, Ajnadin Mustafa and Noora Ibrahim.
Tripoli/Benghazi, 18 August 2014:
In a dramatic overnight development in the conflict in Tripoli between . . .[restrict]Misrata-led Operation Libya Dawn forces and those from Zintan, the Warshefana and their allies, positions held in Wadi Rabie and near Tripoli Airport by the former have been bombed.
It was initially reported by the Libya Herald that Mitiga Airbase was hit, but this was not case. It was Qasr Ben Gashir that was hit.
The government has confirmed the attack, noting in a statement that two “unidentified” aircraft had been involved.
The Libyan Chief of Staff later on said in a separate statement that air raids carried out over Tripoli involved laser-guided smart bombs and missiles fired from over seven to eight kilometres altitude.
Furthermore, it added that no Libyan side has such armament or airport or aircraft capable of executing such an operation or such precision raids of the previous night.
The government statement noted that it was unclear who did the bombing and that a committee had been set up to investigate.
For its part, the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR), allied to Misrata, had no doubts. It blamed General Hafter’s Operation Dignity forces and the Zintanis, However, Operation Dignity denies this although it says it gave the coordinates.
At Qasr Ben Gashir, next to Tripoli International Airport, an ammunition store belonging to Misrata’s Hattin Brigade but guarded by men from Gharian was hit in the early hours of the morning. Initial reports from Misratan sources speak of four or five Gharianis killed and one Misratan injured.
The Wadi Al-Rabie camp north east of the airport, held by Islamist forces for several months, is now the major operations base for Misratan forces under Salah Badi. Reports that two airstrikes this morning left over six people killed and 20 wounded there have not been confirmed.
Air Force Brigadier-General Saqr Adam Geroushi, the commander of Operation Dignity’s airforces, told the Libya Herald this morning that the munitions base at Sdada, south of Misrata between Bani Walid and Sirte, had also been bombed.
LROR and Operation Dawn have said that the aircraft involved in the attacks belonged to Operation Dignity and flew from Wattayah airbase near the western border. The base, they said, was controlled by the Zintanis.
Geroushi has denied his aircraft took part. Nor did NATO planes, he said. He claimed, however, that a European air force was involved, adding that he had personally provided it with the coordinates.
European involvement has been firmed rebutted by the Italian ambassador, Guiseppe Buccino Grimaldi. Speaking on the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Nabaa TV this morning, he said that neither Italy nor any other European air force had been involved.
Operation Dawn has backed the ambassador, also saying that no outside forces were involved.
However, Libyan airforce officials, like the Chief of Staff, have told this newspaper that they and their colleague were never trained for night time strikes, that their airforce planes were not equipped for such action and yet the attacks demonstrated highly accurate targeting. “It is impossible Libyan planes did this”, an Libyan air force major told this newspaper, suggesting that either Egyptians or Algerians were involved.
Two days ago, a usually reliable senior military source told this newspaper that airstrikes in Benghazi against Ansar Al-Sharia during the previous day had not been carried out by Libyan aircraft.
For his part, Geroushi, clearly pleased with the bombings, warned today that “in coming weeks there will be similar attacks in Sabratha, Gemenis. Ajdabiya, Derna and Sirte”. He claimed that Dawn forces were now withdrawing from Tripoli and said that their vehicles would be bombed as they headed back to Misrata.
This afternoon, he told this newspaper that a Sukhoi 24, under his control but provided by a foreign air force, which he would not name, had been in action in Tripoli “to protect civilians”. He intimated that this was an action subsequent to the Mitiga and Wadi Rabie attacks.
The strategic importance of the raids has yet to be seen. The fighting in the capital is largely stalemated as boasts by Operation Dawn forces to have taken the airport and the Ministry of Interior headquarters on the Airport Road turn out to be untrue.
The situation in Tripoli, apart from some missiles near the airport, is very quiet today. Reports that Misrata forces have been pulling out have not been confirmed.