A multinational military operation involving British, French and US forces is coordinating air strikes in support of a renegade general battling Islamist militia groups from a base near Benghazi in eastern Libya, air traffic recordings obtained by Middle East Eye reveal.
The leaked tapes appear to confirm earlier reports suggesting the existence of an international operations centre that is helping General Khalifa Haftar in his campaign to gain control of eastern Libya from groups he has declared to be “extremists”.
At least one air strike was heard being coordinated in the tapes, which total just under an hour in length, suggesting the operations room is being used not only for reconnaissance.
The recordings were passed to MEE from the Benina air base, which is considered to be Haftar’s most important military facility.
The leaks could prove damaging for the international parties involved because Haftar has refused to support the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli and has been fighting some groups that have taken part in the Western-backed campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group.
Last month, the UN Security Council authorised an EU naval force to enforce the arms embargo on Libya by intercepting ships suspected of carrying weapons. The arms embargo was imposed on Libya in 2011, but UN sanctions monitors have reported shipments from Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan to various factions.
One of those factions is led by Haftar, against whom the EU has previously threatened to extend sanctions for undermining the UN-backed Libyan government.
“The sanctions are meaningless,” Haftar’s spokesman said at the time of the threat. “At the moment we have only heard reports in the media and have had no formal message.”
Middle East Eye also revealed in March that British SAS soldiers, supported by Jordanian forces, were already operating in Libya against IS militants.
The leaked tapes feature pilots and air traffic controllers speaking in Arabic and English. British, American, French and Italian accents can be heard.
“Benghazi, good morning, Ascot 9908,” a man with a British accent is heard saying. “Ascot 9908, just letting you know we are in contact with Benghazi airfield.”
The call sign Ascot 9908 came up repeatedly in the recordings. Later on, the man was heard saying: “Ascot 9908 with you again from Benina, we’re looking to pick up a flight plan route from Lima Golf Sierra Alpha.”
“That’s Ascot 9908, we are complete at Benina and next destination is Lima Golf Sierra Alpha,” the same man said, before ending the conversation and continuing with his mission.
Those speaking with French and Italian accents seemed to spend most of the recordings directing air traffic from the control room.
Pilots with American accents also featured prominently. Their two key call signs were Bronco 71 and Mustang 99 – the names of classic American cars.