Tag Archives: Benghazi

War Graves desecrated in Benghazi

I’m absolutely appalled by the footage of armed men desecrating British war graves in Benghazi in Libya. Click here to watch.

Footage on the BBC website shows a large group of armed men – accompanied by what appears to be a reasonably professional film crew – smashing numerous CWGC grave stones. A man is then shown climbing a ladder to try and damage the cross of sacrifice that is present in all larger cemeteries. One gravestone is clearly seen to be engraved with a star of David, denoting that it is the grave of a Jewish serviceman. At no point does anybody seem to stop them, least of all the camera crew. The group act calmly and casually – this is not the work of a few idle youths.That it was filmed does suggest that it was organised. Of course the Libyan Government has condemed the attacks, but did they do enough to stop them? Will they do enough to stop them in future? I’m intrigued about who exactly the film crew were.

War graves in Libya have been pretty inaccessible for many years, since Colonel Gaddafi came to power. One Portsmouth man is buried in Beghazi – Bombardier Henry Herbert, aged 22 who was killed on 8 January 1942 serving with 51 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. The CWGC have confirmed that graves have been damaged, and will be carrying out a full survey soon.

Desecrating war graves is a particularly cowardly thing to do. Especially considering British servicemen have done a lot to help ordinary Libyans, both during the Second World War when the Eight Army fought to push back both the Italians and the Germans, and in the past year or so when NATO forces helped the overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. It is a cowardly thing to do, because the man buriede beneath the gravestone cannot fight back. And more important than that, a war grave is deserving of respect, no matter who is buried there. A person who died doing their duty deserves dignity and peace regardless of the uniform that they wore, or the mistakes of their political masters.

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UN approves no-fly zone over Libya

Muammar al-Gaddafi Mouammar Kadhafi Colonel Qu...

Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr

The United Nations has approved the imposing of a no-fly zone over Libya, in an attempt to prevent Colonel Gadaffi and his forces launching air-strikes on dissidents unhappy with his rule. Gadaffi promptly announced a ‘ceasefire’, although whether this is genuine or simply to buy time remains to be seen.

In a rare attempt of the UN moving quickly, last night the Security Council passed a resolution approving a no-fly zone over Libya. A no-fly zone is probably the most appropriate way in which the outside world can intervene in Libya, without putting troops on the gound – that would be unthinkable after Iraq. Preventing Gadaffi loyalists from flying aircraft over Libya should give the freedom fighters some breathing space. If in the future troops are to go into Libya it would be better if they came from African and/or Arab countries, to avoid the cat-calls about Western imperialism.

It’s a feather in the cap for the UN, which all too often in modern times has been found to be slow and ponderous. The resolution emphasises that the no-fly zone is to safeguard the majority of Libyan civilians who no longer want to remain under the rule of an erratic and mentally questionable dictator. This sort of scenario is exactly what the UN is there for. Credit as well to France for actually voting for the resolution for a change, rather than vetoing it.

Exactly what part the UK can play in such a no-fly zone is open to question. Any RAF aircraft will be operating at maximum range from either Malta or more likely Cyprus. 10 years ago we could have quickly moved an Aircraft Carrier and its task group to the North African Coast, complete with a squadron of the proven Sea Harrier. Even the vision of a British Carrier over the horizon would probably be enough to rein Gadaffi in. But thanks to the RAF undermining the Fleet Air Arm, and now the ConDem Government axing the aircraft carriers, that can’t happen. And to think they told us the cuts would not mean a loss in capability.

There was an interesting post on Think Defence the other day highlighting the aircraft in the inventory of the Arab League. Some basic research has shown that the member states making up the Arab League possess over a thousand fighter aircraft (including F-16’s, F/A-18 Hornets, Mirage 2000’s and Typhoons) , 10 tankers and 13 AWACS-type surveillance planes. Why then are European and other countries even needing to get involved?

So, what Air Forces can Libya put into the air? Information is patchy, but Global Security lists the following:

  • 29 Mirage F1 (two defected to Malta after being ordered to bomb protesters)
  • 45 Mig-21 ‘Fishbed’ (most believed to be grounded, two known to be shot down)
  • 115 Mig-23 ‘Flogger’ (most believed to be grounded, at least 13 captured)
  • 94 Mig-25 ‘Foxbat’
  • 53 Su-22 ‘Fitter’ (one lost crashed, others claimed captured)
  • 6 Su-24 (two believed lost)
  • 7 Tu-22 ‘Blinder’
  • 37 Mi-24 ‘Hind’ (at least 7 lost)

The Libyans also possess around 216 Surface to Air Missiles, including the Russian SA-8 ‘Gecko’, SA-6 ‘Gainful’, SA-5, SA-3 ‘Goa’ and SA-2 ‘Guideline’. Some of these are capables systems, but whether the Libyans have the electronics and radars in order, enough missiles and good enough training to use them effectively is another matter.

Those are the raw numbers; we can probably half them at least thanks to airworthiness, lack of spare parts, and problems with maintenance and ground crew. Serviceability has been drastically affected by years of embargos and sanctions. The US State Department estimates that around half of Libyan aircraft remain in storage, including the Tupolev Bombers and most of the Migs. We also know very little about the Libyan aircrew’s training standards: probably nothing to worry too much about. And technologically there is nothing there to match the modern NATO-standard fighters.

Lets compare against what a US Aircraft Carrier of the Nimitz class carries as standard:

  • 24-28 FA/18E and FA/18F Super Hornets Fighters
  • 20-24 FA/18C Hornets Multi-role
  • 4-6 EA-6B Prowler Electronic Warfare
  • 4-6 E-2C Hawkeye AEW
  • 2 C-2 Greyhound logistics
  • 8 S3-B tankers
  • 6 Sea Hawk Helicopters

Formidable indeed. A US Carrier Group off the Libyan Coast would have Gadaffi cowering in his tent. Add in a Marine Expeditionary Force – they carry a singificant number of aircraft – and its even more formidable. It just goes to show, the utility of the aircraft carrier should not be underestimated (yes that means you, Dave and Gideon).

Therefore we can see that although the Libyans do not have any first class air-defence to write home about, they do possess a large number of basic but effective ground attack jets and helicopters. Getting these off the backs of the anti-Gaddafi forces would be a significant move to toppling the man without going in ourselves.

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