Air strikes hit militia-held Tripoli airport

Air strikes hit militia-held Tripoli airport
Fighter jets loyal to the internationally-recognised Libyan government strike Mitiga airport, held by Libya Dawn anti-government militias who control Tripoli and Misrata.
3 min read
25 November, 2014
Mitiga airport was struck by missiles from pro-Haftar fighter jets (AFP)
Libyan air force fighter jets struck Tripoli's only functioning airport, Mitiga, for the second day running early on Tuesday.

The air force also later claimed an attack against anti-government militias in Sabratha.

The air force are loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a retired general who has been fighting on behalf of Libya's government against anti-government militias across the country.

"It was our air forces which carried out the air raid on Mitiga base," General Saqr al-Jarrashi, a spokesman for Haftar, said.

He added that the strikes were directed against what he called "terrorist groups".

Witnesses said that two missiles were fired at the airport, which lies in Tripoli's eastern suburbs, and described "several explosions" hitting the airport's perimeter. 

A source within Libya Dawn told al-Araby al-Jadeed that they believe that the plane took off from Watiya air base, south-west of Tripoli, which is controlled by Haftar-allied militias from the Western mountain town of Zintan. 

The source added that he believed the targeting of Mitiga may be a step towards an eventual strike against Misrata, as well as a pre-emptive move to prevent Libya Dawn planes targeting towns in western Libya held by government-allied militias.  
     Of much more importance is that Mitiga is used to funnel resources to their forces in the western mountains. - Tarek Megerisi, political analyst

"There are a number of MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighter jets at Mitiga that were possibly the target of the strikes, so as to prevent them from attacking Zintan and Kikla," the source said.

Tarek Megerisi, a London-based political analyst, said that Mitiga is of vital importance to Libya Dawn, with it being the main conduit for supplies from countries such as Qatar, Turkey and Sudan, which are said to support the militia.

"Mitiga is the main base for Libya Dawn," Megerisi said. "Of much more importance is that Mitiga is used to funnel resources to their forces in the western mountains, and is their central point of entry for international support."

Libyan factions fight for legitimacy

The government is recognised by the international community, but are based in the eastern city of Tobruk, with no control over the country's three biggest cities: Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.

A rival administration is based in Tripoli, which is under the control of the Libya Dawn militia, and the Libyan Supreme Court decided in early November that elections that brought the current government to power were unconstitutional.

Benghazi has been the site of fierce fighting in the past few weeks, with Haftar's forces tightening the noose on militias inside the city, who include the al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia.

Derna, to the east of Benghazi, appears to be under the control of a militia who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS).

Despite international efforts to put an end to the violence in Libya, observers fear that the country is on the path to a
     No group is strong enough to rule, but every group is powerful enough to get in the way.
- Mohamed Eljarh, Atlantic Council
fully fledged civil war, only three years after the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

"Both sides have now declared war on each other and the violence is expected to escalate, it is hard to see how the voices of reason would prevail over the sound of guns and air strikes," said Mohamed Eljarh, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East.

Although Eljarh notes that Haftar's Operation Dignity is advancing, he does not think they have the ability to deliver a knock-out blow to their opposition any time soon.

"It is hard to see how any side can actually achieve an outright military victory... No group is strong enough to rule, but every group is powerful enough to get in the way," Eljarh said.

Additional reporting by AFP.