The Libyan National Army’s Planes and Helicopters Are Scattering Cluster Munitions Across Libya
The weapons endanger civilians
by ARNAUD DELALANDE
Official photos from the Libyan National Army, published on Aug. 15, 2016, indicate that the LNA is using cluster munitions in Libya.
The LNA, headed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar — a former officer in the regime of Muammar Gaddafi — has pledged allegiance to the House of Representatives faction in Tobruk, one of many competing political entities in Libya.
In May 2014, the LNA launched Operation Dignity, its ongoing campaign against Islamist armed groups in Benghazi and Derna. Now we can reasonably assert that this campaign involves cluster munitions, which spread small explosives over a wide area and risk disproportionately endangering civilians.
But this is probably not the first time that cluster bombs have been used in Libya. Remnants of RBK-250 PTAB 2.5M cluster bombs were found in Bin Jawad in February 2015 and in Sirte in March 2015.
LNA air force general Saqr Al Jerroushi confirmed that his aircraft carried out air strikes on these cities during the periods when the cluster munitions were found, but Al Jerroushi denied that his forces were responsible for dropping the bombs.
In May 2015, remains of RBK-250 ZAB-2.5 incendiary cluster munitions were discovered in Derna in eastern Libya. The LNA air force regularly strikes forces belonging to the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna. On Feb. 7, 2016, unidentified aircraft bombed Bab Tobruk District, an area controlled by the Shura Council. The strikes killed four civilian and two militant fighters.
According to local sources, the air strikes hit ammunition and weapons the DMSC had stored in residential areas, resulting in huge explosions. Col. Muftah Hamza from the LNA denied his forces’ involvement, instead blaming the Libyan air force, the LNA air force’s much smaller rival.
But just one day later, an LNA air force MiG-23ML — serial number 6132 — was shot down by DMSC militants after taking off from Gamal Abdul El Nasser air base near Tobruk International Airport and carrying out an air raid on Derna. The shoot-down seemed to confirm the LNA’s responsibility for the cluster-bombings in Derna.
On March 8, 2016, the first photos appeared of an LNA Mi-8T helicopter carrying a RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh cluster bomb under its left stub-wing. The RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh comes packed with 150 bomblets.
During the night of March 28, an LNA Mi-8T armed with at least one RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh and a Mi-35 gunship loaded with S-8 rocket launchers and a UPK-23–250 gun pod both took off from Labraq air base and attacked five technical vehicles in the Benghazi area.
This was actually the second time that cluster bombs had been seen loaded on LNA helicopters. Most of the unguided bombs that LNA aircraft carry are classic, Russian-made FAB-250/270 and French-made 400-kilogram Type 21C SAMPs that, by and large, are in very poor condition.
The cluster munitions, by contrast, don’t seem so old, which suggests that they were either properly stored or were acquired recently from other countries.
On Aug. 15, 2016, MiG-21bis serial number 404, which had been damaged while landing on Nov. 11, 2015, was seen at Benina air base armed with one RBK-250-270 PTAB 2.5M cluster bomb under its left wing. This was the first LNA aircraft displaying such a configuration. The RBK-250-270 PTAB 2.5M dispenses 30 bomblets.
Seven MiG-21bis, eight MiG-21MFs and three MiG-21UMs are in service with Squadrons 1021 and 1060 of the LNA air force. LNA army aviation, for its part, operates 15 M-8Ts, eight Mi-24/35s and one Mi-171. Another Mi-171 was shot down on July 17, 2016.
Since the beginning of the year, LNA and Government of National Accord-affiliated forces — including the “official” Libyan air force — have fought to recapture the cities of Sirte and Benghazi from militants. The main targets for LNA aircraft are the fish market in Al Sabri, Factory Island, Ganfouda district and Ajdabiya.
On June 17, media favorable to the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and to the Misrata militia published pictures of damage in Benghazi that the media claimed had been inflicted by indiscriminate “barrel- bomb” air strikes carried out by the LNA at Haftar’s command.
But there is no clear evidence of the LNA using improvised barrel-bombs. Cluster bombs, yes. Barrel bombs, no.
On June 27, a temporary ceasefire agreement was signed between MSCD and LNA. But two weeks later, MiG-23BNs struck the western entrance to the city of Derna. And beginning in August, aircraft struck alleged militant ammunition stores.
LNA media reported that its MiG-21/23s and Mi-8/35s based at Tobruk, Al Abraq and Benina were engaged in heavy attacks on all axes. The cluster bombers in the new photos are clearly part of this effort.