Jun 22, 2014

Qatari C-17 alleged to have visited Libya

The Libyan Air Force posted a photograph of a military transport on its Facebook page on 15 January, alleging it was a Qatari aircraft that had landed at a base controlled by one of the country's militias.
Much of the Libyan Air Force, including the people who control the Facebook page, is loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan Army officer who launched an offensive against Islamist militias in the east of the country in May without approval from the country's weak central authorities.
The aircraft in the photograph is a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft with a Qatari flag on its tail. While the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) operates four C-17s that were delivered between 2009 and 2012, there is nothing to prove the photograph was taken in Libya.
Flight records obtained by the panel of experts that monitors the UN arms embargo on Libya show that Qatari C-17s visited Tripoli's Mitiga International Airport twice and Binina Airbase outside Benghazi once between 15 January and 16 April 2013.
The panel is attempting to investigate allegations that the aircraft picked up arms shipments in Libya that were flown to Turkey and supplied to Syrian insurgents. It noted in its 19 February report that, after the three Libyan flights returned to Qatar's Al-Ubeid Airbase, the next C-17s to depart flew to Ankara.
Earlier in June, Haftar's spokesman Muhammad Hijazi accused Sudan of supplying Qatari-funded weapons to Islamist militias, saying a shipment had been flown to Mitiga International Airport for a militia loyal to Abdel Hakim Belhaj on 6 June. Belhaj is a veteran commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who is now the leader of Libya's Al-Watan party. He is widely perceived to be one of the main beneficiaries of Qatari support during and since the 2011 rebellion that overthrew Muammar Ghadaffi in 2011.
The Libyan Air Defence Command, which is also loyal to Haftar, potentially has the ability to detect aircraft flying across the country's southeastern border with Sudan. It announced in October 2013 that it had repaired a P-12/18 surveillance radar and associated operations room in Al-Kufrah: a remote southeastern district that borders Sudan and Chad.
Colonel Alswarmi Khalid Saad, the spokesman for the Sudan Armed Forces, denied that Sudan has supplied weapons to militants in Libya. He added that the two countries now have excellent defence ties and that dozens of Libyans are currently studying at its military college.
The UN panel of experts has reported that Sudan has leased three Mi-24/35 combat helicopters to Libya in contravention of the arms embargo. One of the helicopters crashed in July 2013 and photographs posted on the Binina Airbase's Facebook page indicate that at least one (an Mi-24/35P with serial number 959) of the two survivors is currently operating in support of Haftar's forces.
The latest allegations imply that Qatar is again sending arms to Libya, rather than shipping them out for Syrian rebels. While the extent to which this is happening remains unclear, Libya is another potential arena for the Saudi-Qatari rivalry.
If the Saudi-backed government in Cairo can be persuaded to refuse Qatari military transports permission to fly through Egyptian airspace, then Sudan offers a potential route or transhipment point for weapons going to or from Libya.
This raises the possibility that the MiG-21 fighters operated by the Libyan Air Force elements that are loyal to Haftar could try to intercept transport aircraft flying across the Libyan-Sudanese border with the help of the early warning facility in Al-Kufrah.

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