A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 25, 2014

Who Bombed Tripoli Last Monday and Yesterday? Egypt and UAE, or Algeria?

The New York Times has quoted "four senior American officials" as saying that Egypt and the UAE, despite strong public and official denials, were responsible for the bombing of targets in Tripoli last Monday and again yesterday. If verified, this may resolve one of the stranger mysteries of the past week, rather overshadowed by events in Iraq and Gaza.

Last Monday morning before dawn, at least two combat aircraft attacked targets in Tripoli in Libya, striking at areas controlled by Islamist militias. Libya's Air Force denied responsibility, and experts said the Libyan Air Force lacks night fighting capability and could not have launched the strikes. Libyan government officials blamed a "foreign" air force, and the US, Britain, France, Italy, and Egypt all disclaimed responsibility. One problem was that the aircraft, striking before dawn, were not identifiable.

This was further muddled when spokesmen for rebel General Khalifa Haftar claimed responsibility, saying "The Libyan eagles of the air, on board Sukhoi-24 long-range weapon launchers that were brought back into service again, carried out precise and intensified airstrikes early yesterday morning on targets of the so-called 'Libya Dawn' militias," This raised questions since Libya has only six Su-24s and all were believed shot down or destroyed on the ground in 2011.

Later, however, Jane's reported that Brig. Gen. Saqr Jarushi, a dismissed head of the Libyan Air Force who backs Haftar and commands the base at Binina, clarified "that Su-24s that were under his control, but provided by a foreign air force, had carried out airstrikes that he implied were in addition to the earlier ones." 

Su-24 in Algerian livery
These reports of Su-24s seemed to point the finger at Algeria. Other than Libya, her only other air forces nearby with Su-24s are Sudan's and Algeria's Sudan's are recent and it is not concerned with Libya, while Algeria's are recently upgraded. (Syria has the but is preoccupied elsewhere.) Algeria denied it.

If Egypt and the UAE were responsible, they do not have Su-24s. But yesterday, the Libyan Dawn militia claimed that Egyptian and UAE aircraft were responsible for an attack on Friday, though other reports speak of a second attack only on Sunday, including the NYT report. There may have been three attacks in all.

If he Times story is to be believed, the UAE provided the aircraft, pilots, and refueling tankers, and flew from Egyptian air bases, so the Egyptian denial that its aircraft were involved could be literally true. But then, was the Su-24 story simply a red herring planted by Haftar's people to point the finger at Algeria? Haftar's people probably are cooperating with the Egyptians in the border region and may have provided a cover story.

Meanwhile, militia fighting over control of Tripoli International Airport, which has been closed due to the fighting, has reportedly resulted in a fire which destroyed the main terminal building.

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