The UAE Is Getting Ready to Deploy Jets to the Libya War
Base construction hints at air-war escalation
New satellite imagery from Terra Server — dated Sept. 24 and Nov. 10, 2017 — show accelerating construction on Al Khadim air base in eastern Libya.
And that’s strong evidence that the United Arab Emirates is preparing to intervene even more in the grinding Libyan civil war. The imagery of Al Khadim, located in Al Marj province, depicts a new large parking area and aircraft shelters that could accommodate jet fighters.
Since June 2016, the Emirates have based AT-802 turboprop attack planes and Chinese-made Wing Loong drones at the base. The Emirati fleet has flown air strikes and reconnaissance missions in support of Libyan National Army troops fighting Islamist groups in Benghazi.
The new shelters are big enough to host fighter jets including F-16s, Mirage 2000s and even Rafales. Work on the shelters seems to have paused between February and September 2017, at a time when Egypt was ramping up its own support of the LNA, perhaps easing pressure on the UAE to work quickly. The Egyptian air force has deployed fighters, helicopters and Wing Loong drones to western Egypt to patrol the border and attack militants in Libya.
At top — an Emirati F-16. Above — an Emirati Mirage 2000. Photos via the author
But Egypt has suffered setbacks. On Oct. 8, 2017, Egyptian colonel Abdullah El Refaey died in the crash of his F-16 near the Libyan border. Egyptian troops are also battling Islamist militants in the Sinai region. An ISIS attack on a Sufi mosque in Bir Al Abed in northern Sinai in November 2017 killed 305 people. In retaliation, Egyptian warplanes carried out air strikes on terrorist outposts and vehicles.
A sense of urgency returned to the Emirates base-building as Islamic State’s returned to Libya in the summer of 2017, especially in the oil region of southwestern Libya. In October ISIS staged a suicide attack on a court complex in Misrata that killed at least four people and wounded nearly 40. At the end of September 2017, U.S. drone strikes killed 17 ISIS militants southeast of Sirte. On Nov. 17 and 19, U.S. drones struck ISIS camps near Fuqaha in central Libya.
The speed with which the work is progressing at Al Khadim underscores how seriously the LNA and its foreign allies take the ISIS take threat in the region. With Egypt fighting on two fronts, the UAE is clearly planning on a much bigger deployment in Libya to support anti-Islamist forces.