We might call it the war for Libya 2.0, given that following the Arab North African country turning to chaos and ruin following the 2011 US-NATO regime change war against Gaddafi, a new war for Tripoli is fast becoming internationalized in what threatens to be a full-blown proxy war.
New reports this week have uncovered what appear to be covert arms shipments pouring into the war-torn country on "mysterious planes" in support of General Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), which has since early April laid siege to the capital city. At the same time, there's new evidence that external countries like Turkey as well as foreign mercenaries are bolstering the ranks of the UN-backed Government of National Accord which Haftar is trying to unseat.
A new Al-Jazeera investigation caught what's presumed to be weapons-laden cargo planes making repeat trips to makeshift battlefront air bases. What's more is that they are attempting to go "covert" during the deliveries by flipping their tracking transponders off.
According to the report:
Cargo planes were discovered flying clandestinely into bases controlled by renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar and dropping off unidentifed payloads at the time his forces attacked Tripoli last month, an Al Jazeera Arabic TV investigation found.
Satellite images and flight data show two Russian-made Ilyushin 76 aircraft registered to a joint Emirati-Kazakh company called Reem Travel made several trips between Egypt, Israel, and Jordan before landing at military bases controlled by Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) in early April, just as it attempted to seize the capital.
Haftar has long been described by many analysts as "the CIA's man in Libya" — given he spent a couple decades living in exile a mere few minutes from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia during Gaddafi's rule.
In late April the White House had shocked UN and western allies by reversing policy which had up until then recognized the GNA's authority, and bestowed legitimacy of Gen. Haftar's forces. President Trump went so far as to thank Haftar for "securing Libya's oil resources" in a phone call.
This week Al Jazeera published photos and video footage of the illegal (under a recent UN arms embargo) arms shipments, as well as satellite and tracking data from the planes:
Flight transponders appear to have been turned off while flying into the war-torn North African country. Libya is currently under an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations after years of fighting.
Video published by Haftar's forces shows one of the cargo planes - with the registration number UP-I7645 - after landing at LNA's Tamanhant military base in southern Libya. It had taken off from Benghazi in the east, Haftar's stronghold.
The report cites a gulf affairs analyst named Bill Law, who said the war for Libya is now expanding into a full proxy war. "What we're seeing are lots of players coming into Libya. It's a recipe that's almost heading to a Yemen scenario. We're beginning to see a proxy war emerging. We're looking at a pretty bleak situation. In this situation of a vacuum, you see players emerge and we're seeing this now," he told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera published screengrabs of a video published to Gen. Haftar's media site, showing cargo unloaded from aircraft at a LNA military base.
Aircraft have been observed flying into Libya with their trackers off, in what appears violation of a UN arms embargo on the country.
Recent UN numbers and humanitarian monitors have put the number of displaced due to Haftar's offensive on the capital at more than 40,000 civilians and a rising death toll of multiple hundreds, and thousands wounded.
Among Haftar's main backers include the UAE, Egypt, France, Russia, and recently the United States. Foreign mercenaries have been observed backing both sides, with Turkish as well as European military trainers reported to have recently assisted the Tripoli-based GNA.
Interestingly, in a reversal of the well-known "weapons rat line" which in 2011 to 2012 ran from Libya into Syria, Damascus has this week condemned what it says is a covert program to transfer Syrian jihadists to Libya.
Syria's Ambassador to the UN Bashar Al-Ja’afari told the UNSC on Tuesday: “How can the fighters be transferred from Syria to Libya unless the support of governments benefiting from it?” as cited by The Libyan Address. “We have warned against the transfer of fighters to neighboring countries,” Jaafari added.
According to a summary of the intensifying influx of foreign fighters into Libya, the Middle East news site Al-Masdar noted:
Members of both the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh) and Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham have somehow made their way from Syria to Libya over the last year, prompting the governments in Damascus and Benghazi to question who is aiding their transfer.
Damascus and Benghazi have accused Turkey in recent months of helping to facilitate this transfer, despite Ankara’s rejection of accusations.
Turkey is considered a close ally to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA); they are currently fighting the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is led by Field Marshal General Khalifa Haftar.
The twisted irony is that whereas Libya less than a decade ago was a main departure point for foreign jihadists entering the Levant region via Turkey to fight Assad, it now appears the same jihadists are headed the other way, and again in support of a NATO country (Turkey and the GNA's UN allies).