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Libyan Air Force

On 17 March 2011 the UN Security Council authorized the use of force in Libya to protect civilians from attack, specifically in the eastern city of Benghazi, which Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi had said he would storm to end a revolt against his regime. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force if needed, the Council adopted a resolution by 10 votes to zero, with five abstentions, authorizing Member States "to take all necessary measures. to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force." The abstentions included China and Russia, which have the power of veto, as well as Brazil, Germany and India.

The B-2 led the way in Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn, when three B-2s flew more than 25 hours from Whiteman AFB to destroy virtually the entire Libyan air force on the ground. The bombers dropped 45 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions on hardened aircraft shelters, destroying the planes and helicopters inside and removing Muammar Qaddafi's ability to harm his people from the air. Collectively, in just 13 days, NATO flew well over 2000 sorties, launched more than 200 TLAMs, released thousands of pounds of munitions, saved thousands of Libyan civilians from massacre, and eliminated the Libyan Air Force as a threat. During Operation Unified Protector, NATO conducted over 26,500 sorties, including over 9,700 strike sorties over Libya.

Although a large part of Libya's army has defected and joined the rebel forces, its air force appears to have remained almost completely loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, it was one of the main factors propping up the regime and the most serious threat to the insurgents who control the eastern part of the country.

The Libyan air force was effectively destroyed in 2011, and little effort was initially made to reconstitute this service. Prior to 2011, the Air Force had approximately 375 combat capable aircraft [420 combat aircraft in 2000], though more than half of the aircraft were non-operational, 50 armed helicopters (many in storage) and 90 transport aircraft (some in storage). Most of the equipment was of Soviet origin and some from the USA and France. Serviceability of aircraft and equipment had been drastically affected by the UN embargo ordered in April 1992.

In June 2012 the air force chief of staff, Saqr Geroushi said that its main priority was border security, adding that his aircraft were flying regular sorties along Libya’s borders. As of mid-2012 it was reliably reported that Libya’s existing air force was reckoned to include around 28 aircraft, mainly Migs as well as some French Mirages, and nine helicopters, most of which originated in the Soviet Union.

In January 2013 the government ordered the air force to target smugglers. A number of pilots were reported to have expressed disquiet at the policy, saying they wanted guidance from the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ghariani. On 05 April, 2013 the air force attacked a convoy of fuel smugglers operating near Ghadames on the border with Tunisia and Algeria. According to reports, a fighter plane on border reconnaissance patrol spotted a convoy of six fuel trucks some eight kilometres from the border. Thirteen of the smugglers are said to have been killed in the incident.

An attack 06 July 2012 on a Libyan air force helicopter transporting polling material led to the death of one person. An air show, part of a ceremony to celebrate the graduation of pilots at Benghazi’s Air Force base, went tragically wrong 04 July 2013 when a helicopter performing aerobatic maneuvrrs crashed. The Mi-35 helicopter hit the ground in front of horrified comrades and spectators. Two of the three crew – the pilot and flight engineer – were killed on impact. The ceremony was to have celebrated the graduation of some thirty pilots and technicians who had just completed training by Sudanese Air Force instructors in Benghazi.

General Adam Saqr Geroushi was suspended in January 2013 by the Ministry of Defence as head of the Libyan Air Force following his disbarment by the Integrity Commission. The Integrity Commission disbarred Geroushi on 4 January, although he appealed the decision in court. A few days later he faced charges in a separate case in a military court. Ibrahim Al-Awami, the military prosecution spokesman, said: “The military prosecutor brought ten charges against Geroushi, including cases of theft and fraud.” The case was postponed for a month following a request from the defence lawyers, who said they needed more time to consider the charges and evidence against their client.

Attacks on Air Force Personnel

Three army and police officers died in separate attacks in Benghazi September 29, 2013, the latest in a string of attacks against security forces in Libya's second city, a security official said. "Air force Lieutenant Colonel Ali al-Daghani was killed when a device placed in his car exploded near a market," said Abdullah al-Zayedi, a spokesman for the security forces. "A few metres (yards) away, police officer Nejib Bel Hacen al-Zwei died when a homemade bomb exploded in his car," he said, while another officer, Abdelkader al-Maadani, was gunned down outside his Benghazi home.

On the evening of 02 October 2013, Russia’s Embassy in Tripoli was attacked by an armed group of militants. According to the information available, the murder of a Libyan Air Force officer and the stabbing of his mother by Yekaterina Ustyuzhaninova, a Russian national, on 01 October, was the direct reason for these aggressive actions against the diplomatic mission. Yekaterina Ustyuzhaninova was arrested, and a criminal case was initiated against her. The Libyan party will inform us about all circumstances of this incident during its investigation. This event provoked relatives and friends of the murdered Libyan to “take revenge” for his life by attacking the Russian diplomatic mission.

A group of unknown assailants fired shots at the embassy and managed to break into the territory of the Embassy, but its employees and members of their families hid in protected premises. The attackers fled the scene after several were killed. The armed attackers On 3 October, all employees of the Russian Embassy and members of their families - 52 people - safely crossed the border into Tunisia. They returned to Moscow by a special flight of the Russian Emergencies Ministry on 4 October.

The Russian woman whose alleged murder of a Libyan Air Force officer prompted the attack on the Russian Embassy was a former professional powerlifter who studied in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, regional officials said. Both Russia’s and Libya’s Foreign Ministries said the murder of Libyan Air Force officer Mohammed Soussi was the motivation for the assault on the embassy. Libyan police arrested Ustyuzhaninova for allegedly shooting Soussi to death in his home and stabbing his mother. A graphic video circulating on Facebook, reportedly of Soussi's murder scene, showed blood pooled around a body on the floor, with “Death to rats” written in blood in English on the wall beside it.

Colonel Abdullah Ahmed Zayad Al-Barrasi, a pilot in the Libyan Air Force, was shot while driving to work in Benghazi the morning of 6 October 2013. He was targeted at 8:30 am, in the city’s Al-Bath Street, by unknown gunmen while on his way to work at Benina Air Base, Spokesman for Benghazi Joint Security Room (BJSR) Abdullah Zaidi told the Libya Herald. He was critically wounded, Zaidi said, and died on arrival at Al-Jala Hospital. The BJSR has launched an investigation into the attack but Zaidi pointed out that, because it was a quiet time of day, there were no eye-witnesses. This was the latest killing in wave of assassinations and explosions targeting symbols of the 17 February Revolution and security personnel that continue to rock Benghazi.

A Libyan air force officer was killed and another security forces member badly wounded on 13 October 2013 in two separate attacks in the eastern city of Benghazi, an official said. "Unidentified assailants opened fire on Abdelfattah al-Ryani, an air force officer, in the Al-Hadaek region of Benghazi," Colonel Abdullah al-Zaidi of the security services told AFP. The officer "died after being struck by bullets in the head and chest", he added. In the other attack, Abdessalam al-Dursi, a colonel in a police anti-drugs unit, was gravely wounded when a bomb planted in his car exploded. Officials at Benghazi's Al-Jala hospital said Dursi suffered serious leg injuries and that his condition was "critical".

Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising that ousted former dictator Moamer Kadhafi, saw a series of assassinations targeting officers in the security services. Other attacks targeted Western interests and diplomats, and much of the violence, including the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens, was attributed to radical Islamists.

Renewed Operations

At the end of the revolution, the Libyan air force fleet was depleted and in crucial need of aircraft, helicopters in particular. The majority of the Libyan Air Force sided with the LNA, but Libya Dawn control Mitiga Airbase in Tripoli, where several MiG-23s were based. Libya Dawn apparently carried out air strikes against Zintan on 17 February, using aircraft from Mitiga Airbase in Tripoli, which it controls. The base is home to several MiG-23s. Both pilots flying a Libya Dawn MiG-23UB fighter aircraft were killed 23 March 2015 when they were shot down while attacking an air base.

Most of what remains of the Libyan Air Force is allied with the Libyan National Army. In early 2015 Libya, already the recipient of three MiG-21MF fighters from Egypt, was getting two more, as it fought common militant islamist enemy groups.

All eleven people on board a Libyan Air Force An-26 transport aircraft were killed when their aircraft crashed on 25 February 2014. The loss of the An-26 left the Libyan Air Force with two operational An-26s, while a third was flown by Libyan Air Cargo. On 02 September 2014, a Mig-21 belonging to the Free Libya Air Force crashed into Tobruk killing the pilot and at least a small boy on the ground. The Libyan Air Force has lost another aircraft 30 January 2015, this time an Il-76T transport, which was completely destroyed by fire while parked at Mitiga.

Libya launched air strikes against militants in the south of the country in an attempt to end the armed clashes. Libyan Defense Ministry blamed forces loyal to ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi for sparking the unrest. "A force was readied, then aircraft moved and took off and dealt with the targets," Defense Ministry spokesman Abdul-Raziq Shabahi told reporters in Tripoli January 18, 2014.

On 88 March 2014 members of the Libyan Air Force refused to obey orders to bomb the Morning Glory, a North Korean oil tanker. The ship was docked at the rebel-held port of Es-Sidra, and being loaded. Air Force officials said they believed the Es-Sidra problem was political, and not something the military should try to intervene in.

General Khalifa Haftar's air force was responsible for strikes on Islamist-leaning militia in Tripoli on 18 August 2014, one of his commanders said, after weeks of fighting for the capital in Libya's worst violence since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

Libya’s air force, loyal to the internationally recognized government of Abdullah al-Thani, launched airstrikes 05 January 2015 at a 'suspicious' oil tanker at the port of Derna, controlled by Islamists. The military opened fire "after the crew refused to heed orders to stop for a search operation," said Colonel Ahmed Mesmari, a military spokesman.

In February 2015 the Libyan air force, based in the east of the country, accused Qatar of sending arms by air to Misrata. Qatar denied those charges. A leaked Libyan report to the UN Security Council said “the capacity of Libya to physically prevent [arms] transfers is almost nonexistent and there is no authorization to enforce the arms embargo on the high seas as there was during the 2011 revolution.”

On 11 March 2015, Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with Brig. Gen. Saqr al-Jerroushi, commander of the Libyan Air Force of the internationally recognized government. Brig. Gen. Al-Jerroushi acknowledged that his forces had carried out air strikes in February and March in Ben Jawad and Sirte as well as in Watiya, among other locations, but denied that forces under his command used cluster bombs in any of the reported air strike locations.

On 19 March 2015 the air force bombed the Tripoli airport in response to a less effective attacks on a pro-Tobruk airport in the western city of Zintan. The air force had been searching for and bombing any aircraft working for the Tripoli government.

Libya's internationally-recognized government carried out airstrikes on multiple targets in Tripoli, which is controlled by a rival administration. Saqer al-Joroushi, a Libyan air force commander, said on 21 March 2015 that the official government hit Tripoli's Matiga airport and a military camp used by the rival Libya Dawn group.

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