Op-Ed: In Libya attacks hit CIA-linked Haftar's air base in Benghazi

Posted Oct 2, 2014 by Ken Hanly
After being driven out of most of Benghazi CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar and his allies are holed up in the key Benina air base on the outskirts of Benghazi.
A Libyan carries a portrait of retired general Khalifa Haftar during a rally in support of the rogue...
A Libyan carries a portrait of retired general Khalifa Haftar during a rally in support of the rogue former general on May 23, 2014 in Benghazi
Abdullah Doma, AFP/File
On Thursday Al Jazeera reporter Mahmoud AbdelWahed said that four separate suicide attacks targeted the air base killing at least 40 troops loyal to Haftar and wounding dozens as well. The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries along with the Libya Shield and the radical Ansar al-Sharia jointly conducted the raid. Ansar al-Sharia is the group alleged to have led the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012 that killed the US ambassador and several others.
AbdelWahed reported:"Fighting is ongoing around the strategic Benina air base, with militias seeking to capture the base before Eid on Saturday. The air base houses heavy weaponry and is crucial for the militias as they attempt to seize control of Benghazi,"
General Haftar started the present round of clashes with Islamist militias by attacking two Islamist bases in Benghazi at the beginning of his Operation Dignity back in May of this year. A short time later his allies the Zintan brigade attacked parliament, burned it, and kidnapped some Islamist lawmakers and officials.
However, the brigades, which protected the Tripoli airport, have been driven out of Tripoli by an umbrella group of Islamist militia including a large group from Misrata. Haftar's forces including Libyan Special Forces have also been driven out of Benghazi with the Islamist militias occupying several key military bases. During the period that the Islamist militias were taking over Tripoli there were a series of night bombing raids against their positions that Haftar claimed were a joint operation between his forces and the international community. The rebels blamed the raids on Egypt and the UAE. The US for a time took the same position but later withdrew the charge. Egypt and the UAE denied involvement. It is certain that Haftar's forces do not have planes of the type that carried out the raids.
Details of the attacks on the Benina base vary. Reuters puts the casualty figures at almost 30 based upon the reports of medics with almost 70 wounded. Another four people were killed on an army checkpoint east of Benghazi again according to medical officials. Wanis Bukhamada, commander of army special forces in Benghazi told Reuters that two cars loaded with explosives drove into a checkpoint near the Benina airport killing three soldiers. He claimed that the attackers Majilis al-Shoura suffered heavy losses. Note that the special forces are loyal to Haftar not the government per se although the government in Tobruk now seems to be loosely allied with Haftar. The Islamists have been attacking the airport for weeks. Haftar controls some helicopters and planes that have attacked the Islamists from time to time. The Islamists convened the General National Congress which appointed an alternative prime minister who formed a competing government to the House of Representatives elected in June who meet in the far eastern city of Tobruk. The interim government voted to move the parliament to Benghazi but the city was taken over by Islamic militias before they could convene so the parliament met in Tobruk.
The BBC reported that at least seven Libyan soldiers were killed in two car bombings and clashes in Benghazi. Note that the reporting is of Libyan soldiers associated with special army forces loyal to Haftar. These are simply part of the Haftar militia. Their loyalty is not to the government per se but the general. He is still often referred to in articles as "renegade" but sometimes now one sees the more positive term "nationalist". The BBC article goes on to say that 60 troops were wounded in the violence.
Another report from Col. Mohammed Hegazi said that two suicide car bombings killed seven troops and wounded twelve people. Hegazi claimed that Haftar's forces launched airstrikes on the militias to prevent them from taking over the airport. However, a spokesperson for the Feb. 17th brigade that is part of the Islamist coalition launching the attacks Mohammed Eissa said that 10 of its members were wounded in clashes near the airport but the airstrikes did not impede their advance. The Islamists are also battling with Haftar's forces in other areas. Clashes near the city of al-Qoubba killed five yesterday according to security officials. In the city of Sabha in the south there was conflict between tribes that killed 15 people.
Meanwhile the UN envoy to Libya, Bernadino Leon has been shuffling back and forth between the two opposition groups and their political representatives. However, Islamist militias that control the capital Tripoli so far have rejected the talks. I expect that there will be further foreign intervention if there is no political progress soon.