Hours after reports came in yesterday that Gaddafi had announced a cessation of all military operations against the rebels, I spoke to my Libyan contacts in Benghazi — the people I’ve spent over two weeks with in Eastern Libya this month — and all confirmed reports that military activity was far from over, and that Gaddafi’s forces had laid siege just kilometers from the town. It is not clear yet what weapon the Rafale deployed against the Libyan armoured vehicle it destroyed. Am expecting photos of the attack tomorrow, so stay tuned.
The no fly zone and foreign air force intervention doesn’t come a moment too soon. Benghazi, while regarded as the rebel heartland, is not as adequately defended as most people may imagine. I travelled extensively within and around the city, and it became pretty clear that ground and air defences were rudimentary at best, with most assets mobilised towards the west in places like Ras Lanuf and Ben Jawwad. And it is not like Gaddafi’s jets haven’t been within striking distance of Benghazi. On the night of March 5, we felt the tremor of an explosion in a building near Mediterranean esplanade — it was the sound of an ammunition and anti-aircraft gun warehouse in a nearby town called Rajma being bombed to oblivion by a Libyan Air Force Su-24. We visited the site the next day. Two fire-engines had been bombed too. Nothing could have kept those Libyan jets from flying more missions except for a no-fly-zone. The Rafales have drawn blood. The rebels did manage to shoot down a fighter yesterday near Benghazi [AWESOME video here]. Not clear if this was a government or rebel controlled fighter.
On another note, some much needed time in the heat for the Rafale as the MMRCA competition winds down. F/A-18s and F-16s also standing by to pound Gaddafi’s air defences.