Egyptian jets 'fight terrorism' in Libya, officials say

Egyptian jets 'fight terrorism' in Libya, officials say
Libyan officials reveal that Egypt has sent warplanes to target Islamist militias in Benghazi.
3 min read
16 October, 2014
Benghazi's streets are deserted as fighting rages [AFP/Getty]
Egypt has bombed Islamist militia positions in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, two Libyan officials have said.

The militias, in control of most of Benghazi, were reportedly attacked by Egyptian warplanes on Wednesday, in a sign that Egypt is willing to further its involvement in the conflict in Libya.

"This is a battle for Egypt not Libya," one of the senior officials said. "Egypt was the first country in the region to warn against terrorism and it is also the first to fight it."

In an official statement posted on Egypt's state-run news agency, however, presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef denied that Egyptian planes were striking targets in Libya.

The Libyan officials, who are said to have "first-hand
       Egypt was the first country in the region to warn against terrorism and it is also the first to fight it.
- senior Libyan offical
knowledge" of the operation, said the latest sorties were part of an Egyptian-led campaign against Islamist groups that would eventually involve Libyan ground troops recently trained by Egyptian forces.

The officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said the operation would last three to six months and involve the use of an Egyptian navy vessel as a command centre off the Mediterranean coast near Tobruk.

Earlier on Wednesday, a top Islamic militia commander based in Benghazi said Egypt sent its warplanes to hit the group's positions.

"The Egyptians are bombing us day and night and only want to seed divisions among us here," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

It is unclear what Egypt's involvement
       The Egyptians are bombing us day and night and only want to seed divisions among us here.
- Islamist militia commander
can accomplish.

Oil-rich Libya has two competing governments and a host of rival armed militias jostling for influence.

One parliament, elected in June, is recognised by the international community but contested by the militia controlling most of Tripoli, and by the Islamists who dominate Benghazi.

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and the majority faction of that legislature decamped this summer to the far eastern city of Tobruk because of widespread insecurity, including in the capital, where a rival administration has been set up.

New chief of staff

In May, renegade general Khalifa Haftar launched "Operation Dignity", ostensibly a move to rid the country of armed Islamist groups. However, Haftar and his forces have been steadily beaten back to a final redoubt at Benghazi's airport.

In a speech broadcast late on Tuesday, he indicated that he would no longer be in charge of operations, saying that he would resign and transfer power to a young army leadership.

The as-yet-unnamed chief-of-staff is commanding operations in Benghazi, according to Thinni.

"After the appointment of the chief of staff for the Libyan army, all military operations are under the command of the new chief of staff and are instructed to restore state institutions and combat terrorism," Thinni told the Dubai-based Sky News Arabia.

The officials who disclosed Egypt's involvement in bombing Benghazi also said that Cairo was dealing with a newly appointed Libyan chief of staff who has visited Egypt several times in recent weeks.