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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

UAE appears to be using remote airbase in eastern Libya to help Haftar

According to the defense publication IHS Jane's, the United Arab Emirates is flying warplanes from a remote airbase in Libya to the south-east of Marj, the headquarters of eastern commander Field Marshal Kahlifa Haftar.

Jane's Defence Weekly that reports on military and corporate affairs is owned byIHS. Jane's claims that the UAE is operating a propeller-driven AT-802U light aircraft, helicopters, and surveillance drones from the Al Khadim airport which is to the southeast of Marj. Jane's has a photograph dated July 23 of 2016 that shows six of the AT-802's known as Air Tractors, along with two Black Hawk helicopters, two drones and an Ilyushin II-76 transport aircraft. The Air Tractor is so-called because it was originally made as a crop dusting plane. The report refers to an Air Tractor photo on social media about this time. The plane was said to have been modified by the U.S. company IOMAX so that it can carry "an electro-optical pod, guided bombs, missiles, rockets and guns". However, it is not clear when exactly the photo was taken.
The Libyan Express also reports on the base:IHS Jane’s revealed that Al-Khadim Airport is in Al-Marj province around 100 km from Benghazi, where the UAE aircraft are supporting “so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) forces”, which are Khalifa Haftar-led Dignity Operation forces fighting Benghazi Shura Council fighters in Benghazi.
The article adds some further details from the Jane's report.
The Jane's article points out that at the beginning of 2016 there was little development at the airbase. A 2004 Google shot shows only a runway with no buildings at all. There were no tire marks on the runway suggesting it had not been used. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) give the airbase code HL59. In March of this year new buildings and an aircraft dispersal area were observed. By June there were also hangars under construction. While all of the aircraft listed are types used by the UAE, Jane's does not explain how they identify the aircraft as belonging to the UAE. The Jane's report appears just a day after Haftar had arrived in the UAE for talks with the UAE defense minister Mohammed Al-Bawardi. Up to know there has been no reaction to the report from Haftar or the UAE government.
Haftar was said to be in Abu Dhabi to discuss the defense needs of Libya, meaning those of the east where he and the House of Representatives government are in control. He also is said to have discussed wider problems in the area. Haftar's visit comes just a day after that of Martin Kobler, the UN envoy to Libya. The UAE news agency has not even mentioned Haftar's visit. However, officials at Haftar's headquarters in Marj claim that the visit was at the request of U.S. officials who are anxious to convince him to support the Government of National Accord (GNA). The U.S. had no comment on this. However, a U.S. Congressional Committee was also in Abu Dhabi and met with the Under-Secretary of the Minister of Defense. In September Faiez Serraj, PM of the GNA visited Abu Dhabi for talks. The UAE has been helping Haftar for some time as indicated in an earlier Digital Journal article. As shown on the appended video, the UAE was probably involved in August of 2014 in air strikes on Tripoli.

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