With the world's attention focused on the Coronavirus outbreak and to a lesser extent on Trump's impeachment trial, the war in Libya just got a lot more scary in terms of the potential for mass civilian death.
Incredibly, Gen. Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) just threatened to shoot down civilian planes after days ago declaring a 'no fly zone' over Tripoli following increased Turkish intervention. The BBC reports the unambiguous and shocking declaration as follows:
Gen Haftar's spokesman, Ahmad al-Mesmari, said in a statement on Wednesday that "any military or civilian aircraft, regardless of its affiliation, flying over the capital will be destroyed".
In the past days Haftar has accused Turkey, which has lately openly transferred both Turkish national army troops as well as Syrian FSA mercenaries into Tripoli to fight on behalf of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, of using the Libyan capital's only functioning international airport as a military base.
It appears the LNA is saying it will consider even commercial flights as 'fair game' because it's alleging Turkey and the GNA are using civilian aviation in a 'human shield' capacity.
BBC reporting that Haftar's spokesman said in a statement Wednesday that "any military or civilian aircraft, regardless of its affiliation, flying over the capital will be destroyed"— Mary Fitzgerald (@MaryFitzger) January 23, 2020
Said spokesman’s utterances often dismissed as bluster by apologists. https://t.co/AdoHqQ7WVx
The BBC has further details as follows:
The GNA branded the strikes a "flagrant threat" to the safety of air traffic and a "new violation" of a ceasefire agreed earlier this month.
Gen Haftar's forces did not immediately respond to the accusations, but did say they had shot down a Turkish drone after it took off from the airport.
Mitiga is a former military airbase which has been used by civilian planes since Tripoli's international airport was damaged in fighting in 2014.
Pro-Haftar officials have also charged that Mitiga international airport has become a drone headquarters, and further that foreign troops are disembarking there.
On Wednesday Mitiga airport was forced to suspend all flights for hours after it was rocked by six surface-fired missiles by LNA militia which for months has been laying siege to Tripoli. The LNA said it was targeting foreign drones (operated by Turkey) which have been used to attack its own troops.
#BREAKING #Libya's Haftar threatens to down civilian planes— EHA News (@eha_news) January 22, 2020
The spokesperson of warlord Haftar, Al-Mismari, said they declared 'no-fly zone' over the capital Tripoli
Al-Mismari said that they would target any flying objects including passenger planes. pic.twitter.com/L5ZdJylvLF
The AFP reported Thursday that after announcing indefinite closure of the airport, the GNA "decided to restore air traffic at Mitiga Airport" according to a statement published on Facebook. However, the status remains anything but clear.
The GNA said it plans to notify the UN Security Council of the Haftar military statement, which constitutes threat of a war crime.
Needless to say this is a major escalation which won't help Haftar's bid to curry favor within international bodies like the UN, which currently backs the Tripoli GNA.
Haftar has rejected recent international attempts for a ceasefire, recently at summits in Moscow and Berlin.
Libya's Mitiga Airport announced that all flights have been suspended until further notice after Haftar forces threatened to down any aircraft flying in the airspace around Tripoli, including civilian passenger planes. pic.twitter.com/V9JMCfj8Ml— ANews (@anewscomtr) January 23, 2020
Should his forces actually do the unthinkable and down a civilian airplane, his own backers (like the UAE, Egypt, and Russia) would be forced to cut all political and military support.
And likely more external assistance would pour in to the Tripoli GNA, alongside Turkey's already substantial and growing military help.