UAE Acquires an Eastern Libyan Air Base Shared with France
The enigmatic Libyan general Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, who commands a private army called “Operation Dignity” based in the eastern town of Benghazi, has given a powerful supporter, the United Arab Emirates, an independent base at Marj, near his headquarters.
The UAE, which previously operated from western Egypt, now directly backs Haftar’s forces in their war on the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR), and other Islamist militias and foes.
The UAE joins Egypt and France as the Haftar army’s principal champions at this time. The relocation of its base to Libya was negotiated by the UAE, Egypt and France with the maverick Libyan general, who gave the Emiratis an “agricultural airstrip” for their operations.
Egyptian and other foreign officers have been spotted at the airbase, which is commanded by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan in collaboration with French officials. It is off limits to Libyan officers, except for Haftar’s close associates.
The airbase’s equipment, according to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, includes repurposed US C130 Hercules converted to carry munitions and bombs, later joined by French Mirage-5 planes, as well as AT-802 light attack aircraft, drones and Airbus Defense and Space satellite imagery.
Three UAE planes are used for reconnaissance sorties and light combat missions, and are piloted by Pakistani pilots. The French jets are used in bombing runs in support of Haftar’s forces, most recently in operations against the Shura Council between Ajdabiya and Benghazi.
On 26 Sept. the Shura Council claimed it was attacked by MiG-23 jets and Mi-8 helicopters operated by the LNA, Emirati AT-802 aircraft, and Predator UAVs operated by both the UAE and Italy.
General Haftar has popped up in recent Libyan history with a shifting assortment of allies since Muammar Qaddafi was hunted to his death in 2011 in a US-led NATO operation.
He has been described as "Libya’s most potent warlord," having fought "with and against nearly every significant faction" in Libya's conflicts in the civil war ongoing since 2014. His other most striking feature is his steadfast anti-Islamist orientation.
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Abdelraziq Al-Nadori, head of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, claimed that a revolt had sprung up against Haftar and the leaders of his Operation Dignity army. The claim was circulated in many local social media posts in an attempt to discredit the general.
It turns that the rival governments and parliaments mushrooming in Libya since Qaddafi’s demise are uniformly powerless against the many militias and warlords controlling different parts of the country.
Haftar has proved to be the most durable.
Born in eastern Libya 1943, he served in the Libyan army under Qaddafi, after taking part in the coup which brought him to power in 1969. He spent nearly two decades in the United States, gaining U.S. citizenship.
In 2014, he was appointed commander of the Libyan Army, but the General National Congress (GNC) refused to give up power in accordance with its terms of office.
In August 2016, Haftar refused to support the UN Security Council endorsement of a Government of National Accord in Tripoli. The United States and its allies then dropped him as a liability for Libyan stability, although the UAE and Egypt continue to stand by him.