An informed security source has disclosed to Huffington Post Arabic the existence of a high-tech Western military operations room under French command in Benghazi. With, British, UAE and Jordanian participation, it has hitherto been unknown to the Libyan national accord government that was announced months ago. The ops room is in place to support General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Al-Karamah operation launched in the middle of 2014, despite the fact that he continues to refuse to cooperate with the UN-sponsored government.
The anonymous source added that this command and control room exists inside Banina Airbase within Benghazi, which is considered to be the most important military post for the pro-Haftar forces.
Preparations for the ops room started in December last year supervised by French troops, whose presence in Benghazi was revealed by Huffington Post Arabic. It contains a main hall and adjacent rooms packed with electronic equipment, computers and screens displaying live pictures of the city from reconnaissance aircraft operating at high altitude for up to 18 hours a day. Remote-controlled 12.7mm Dushka machine-guns are mounted on the roof of the building to complement rocket launchers controlled from the aircraft. Smaller drones — most likely including an Austrian-made Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAV — are also employed to provide round the clock surveillance.
According to the source, the ops room has been operating since mid-February. There are also other foreign troops stationed at the base who are operating within the framework of the command and control room.
Forty French technicians cover communications and control the aircraft, analyse the photographs and direct the infantry on the ground, as well as manage the ops room. They are supported by 15 members of the British armed forces whose task is to collect data and observe all that is going on without intervening in the military operations. There are no more than 10 Jordanian troops who undertake sensitive missions, namely training Libyan marines on naval operations such as mining, booby-trapping and sabotaging boats and minesweepers. The UAE’s contribution is limited to 4 soldiers who carry out extremely important tasks for Haftar’s forces while operating the two rocket launchers and the drone that was delivered to Haftar by the Emirates
Italian troops, of which there are 40, are divided into two groups. The first is training Haftar’s forces in the use of anti-tank missiles and is based on the front-line. The second group of around 20 individuals is stationed within the ops room; they share duties with the French.
There are also, claims the source, a number of US Marines within the base. He declined to describe their role or mission.
No Libyans are allowed into the ops room, apart from some senior military commanders. The most prominent of these is Abd Al-Salam Al-Hasi, who is said to be the liaison officer working between the Haftar forces and the command and control centre.
The national accord government that is supported by the international community is endeavouring to establish its authority in Tripoli. However, it is still facing competition in the east by virtue of General Haftar’s refusal to submit to it. Libya has been in chaos since the downfall of the late Muammar Al-Gadhafi following military intervention by NATO in 2011. Armed militias are vying for control over the oil-rich country.
The extremists of Daesh have exploited the situation in order to bolster the group’s presence in Libya. It has seized control of the city of Sirte, turning it into a training camp for its armed elements.
For more than two years, Benghazi has been witnessing intermittent battles between armed opposition groups, including Jihadists, and Haftar forces that are nominally close to the internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk. The general’s troops benefit from the support the parliament has been receiving from some Arab states.
The UN and international powers have been calling on the warring factions to unite under the national accord government, provided that its main mission focuses on confronting the jihadist threat represented by Daesh. General Haftar has said that his forces will “never” join the national accord government backed by the UN before the militias allied with the government are disbanded.
A unity agreement concluded in December 2015 called for an end to the division between the disputing governments in the capital Tripoli and in the east of Libya which have fought over control of the country and its oil resources since 2014. Each benefits from the support of armed groups that have been fighting since Gadhafi’s fall.
Commenting on the calls for him to reconcile with the unity government headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, Haftar said: “We have nothing whatsoever to do with Al-Sarraj at the present time since the Presidential Council that is led by him was not recognised by the parliament [in the east].”
The general leads what is known as the National Libyan Army, but his role in any national military force, either as minister of defence or an army commander, has been the most contentious issue facing the attempts to achieve unity. For two years, he has been engaged in an operation centred primarily on Benghazi, the biggest city in the east of Libya, against Islamic extremists and other former opponents who see him as someone supported by Egypt and representing the remnants of the old regime with presidential ambitions.
Translated 21 June 2016, from Huffpostarabi.com.