Air Force commander admits presence of foreign military monitors

By Libya Herald reporters.

Airforce commander Saqr Geroushi (File photo)

Airforce commander Saqr Geroushi (File photo)

Benghazi and Tripoli, 21 July 2016;

Air force commander Saqr Geroushi is reported to have said that French, British and US soldiers are in Benghazi, but merely to monitor terrorists.

Geroushi’s revelation to French news agency AFP that some 20 foreign troops are based at the city’s Benina air base, is likely to amplify the widespread protests from the west of the country following the French government’s admission that three of its men died in Sunday’s Libyan army helicopter crash at Magroun.

At the State Council yesterday in Tripoli, the presence of French troops was deplored as a violation of Libyan sovereignty. Presidency Council head Faiez Serraj also condemned French involvement, as did the head of the Dar Al-Ifta Sadeq Ghariani (who called for French products to be boycotted) and the former prime minister of the self-styled National Salvation government, Khalifa Ghwell. None of these denunciations dwelt on the French government’s own claim that their military were involved purely in counter-terrorism intelligence. Nor was any reference made to the widely-reported presence of British and perhaps US special forces on the sidelines of the Bunyan Marsous operation against IS in Sirte.

The magazine Middle East Eye last week released Air Traffic Control conversations apparently taken from the control tower at Benina Airbase. American, French and British voices can be heard in arcane ATC exchanges. There were initially suspicions that the recordings may have dated from the NATO intervention in 2011. However the British defence ministry told the Libya Herald that while no comment was ever made on operations,  “As we have said before, the RAF [Royal Air Force] regularly facilitates visits by diplomatic and military advisers to Libya”.

One source told this newspaper that besides French and British observers in Benghazi, there were also personnel from the UAE and more recently, a number of Russians had arrived. The American presence, the source added, was less clear.

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