A Libyan Air Force MiG-23 fighter jet on Sunday crashed into the Ganfouda neighbourhood of the eastern city of Benghazi after allegedly being hit by a surface to air missile while attacking positions of fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council (BSC).
According to reports from Tripoli, the pilot and his co-pilot ejected safely and were rescued by friendly forces. The aircraft reportedly exploded in mid-air and crashed into the battlefield.
However, despite pictures showing burnt-out fragments of the aircraft, the Libyan National Army (LNA) has denied that it was hit by enemy fire. Instead, a military spokesman insisted the jet crashed due a technical fault.
“If we say an aircraft has been hit it has been hit. If we say it came down due to a technical failure, then it must be technical failure,” the unnamed spokesman told the Libya Herald. The incident came weeks after the 22 December MiG-23 trainer aircraft crash which killed two Libyan Air Force pilots in the Tripoli area.
At least five Libyan Air Force MiG-23 fighter and trainer jets crashed around Libya in 2016 alone. Prior to the outbreak of the 2011 uprising which deposed and killed long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan Air Force had 130 MiG-23 in its inventory. However, the majority of the aircraft were held in storage.
Most of these were seized by militias who were allied during the war against Gaddafi, but have since split up into bitter opposing camps with some backing the UN-backed Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against its rival, the House of Representatives (HOR) which is based in the city of Tobruk.
Meanwhile, US President Barrack Obama has extended US emergency powers with respect to Libya beyond 25 February, 2017, citing the continued threat of violence. In a statement to the US House of Representatives, Obama said there were indications that the rival governments were preparing for a renewed fight for control of the country’s economic resources.
He praised the GNA for trying to consolidate it position, but rebuked the HOR for being ‘obstacles, spoilers and hardliners’ to GNA efforts to stabilise and secure the country.
“Recent clashes between the militias highlight the continued threat of violence and potential for renewed fighting over the country’s resources. We run the risk of further destabilisation if the sanctions do not remain in effect.
“The House of Representatives in eastern Libya, which the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) stipulates should function as the GNA’s legislature, continues its attempts to compete with, rather than work with, the GNA,” Obama said.
He said the US would continue to work with the international community in identifying some of the individuals who pose a threat to Libya’s democratic transition and ensure that appropriate sanctions remain in place against them.
The outgoing leader said despite the success of US airstrikes in dislodging the Islamic State (IS) from the city of Sirte, the instability prevailing in Libya continued to pose serious threats to US national security.