UAE establishes military base in eastern Libya

Airbus Defence and Space imagery dated 23 July 2016 showing UAE air activity at Al-Khadim Airport in Libya. Air operations are conducted from a bermed compound established between March and June 2016. (CNES 2016, Distribution Airbus DS / 2016 IHS)

The UAE has reportedly established a military base in eastern Libya in support for the Operation Dignity Forces, led by Khalifa Haftar, which are part of the Tobruk-based House of Representative (HoR).

The UAE-staffed military base in eastern Al-Marj city is the place from where Haftar’s forces together with UAE troops is operating AT-802 light attack aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery as obtained by IHS Jane’s shows.

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.

While it styles itself as the country’s military, the Khalifa Haftar-led LNA is a predominantly eastern Libyan militias that do not recognise the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, the website disclosed.

“There was very little infrastructure at Al-Khadim at the beginning of this year, but this began to change in March, when new buildings and work on a new aircraft parking area (ramp) could be seen in the satellite imagery.” IHS Jane’s added.

It added that by 27 June hangars were under construction next to the new ramp, which had not been paved at that time.

Afterwards, an operational area had been set up on the existing ramp where two Air Tractor aircraft, two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, two Il-76 transport aircraft, one Il-18 turboprop airliner, and two UAVs were present, the website unveiled.

It added that around this time a photograph emerged on social media showing an Air Tractor purportedly deployed to an unidentified location in Libya. The aircraft could be identified as an AT-802 that had been modified by the US company IOMAX so that it can carry an electro-optical pod, guided bombs, missiles, rockets, and guns.

The number of Air Tractors at Al-Khadim had increased to six on 23 July, when two Black Hawks, two UAVs, and a single Il-76 could also be seen by IHS Jane’s.

The Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
The Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The website concluded by saying that on September 26, the Benghazi Shura Council, which is fighting Dignity Forces in Benghazi, released an infographic claiming it was being attacked by MiG-23 jets and Mi-8 helicopters operated by Haftar’s forces, Emirate AT-802 aircraft, and Predator UAVs operated by both the UAE and Italy, which explains the validity of the satellite imagery.

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