The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar, shot down an Italian drone north of the city of Tarhuna in the west of Libya, LNA spokesman Ahmad al-Mismari said in a statement. It is located 80 km from the capital of Tripoli, which Haftar’s forces are trying to recapture from Fayez al-Sarraj – the head of a UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). The Libyan Armed Forces demanded that the Italian side explain what the drone was doing in Libyan airspace.
The Italian Ministry of Defenсe confirmed the loss of a Predator drone on Twitter and said that it was part of the surveillance mission "Operation Mare Sicuro" (Calm Sea), which has been conducted by the Italian authorities since March 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea in order to control migration flows.
Oggi è precipitato sul territorio libico un #Predator, velivolo a pilotaggio remoto dell' #AeronauticaMilitare che stava svolgendo una missione a supporto dell'operazione Mare Sicuro. Sono in corso approfondimenti per accertare le cause dell'evento#UnaForzaperilPaese pic.twitter.com/WBMyvH1a0z— Forze Armate StatoMaggioreDifesa (@SM_Difesa) November 20, 2019
“...Contact was lost with the Italian Air Force drone, and it crashed in Libyan territory. The flight plan was previously communicated to Libyan authorities by the Italian side", the Italian military's general staff said in a statement.
Libyan Army Brigadier General Khaled al-Mahjub noted that it is bizarre that the drone was in an active war-zone area.
“Italians are saying that this plane was carrying out surveillance task tracking the movement of illegal migrants. But due to communication problems, it got lost".
It is very strange that the plane flew precisely into the war zone. More specific explanations from Italians are required. This is a reconnaissance aircraft. Such incidents have not been previously recorded, so we want a thorough investigation”, the general explained.
“There are ongoing military operations in this area, our air defence systems instantly shot down an air target”, he added.
Is There an Italian Military Presence in Libya?
“The Al-Wefaq government led by Fayez al-Sarraj officially stated that Italian military experts worked in the city of Misrata (135 km from Tarhuna), so this is not secret. According to official information, they have already left this city”, General Khaled al-Mahjub said.
In turn, a member of Libya’s High Council of State (which supports al-Sarraj, located in Tripoli), Muhammed Moazeb, believes that there are no Italian military forces in Libya.
“Civilian hospitals are not military bases. Yes, there are hospitals in Libya where specialists from various countries work. All of them are under the control of the government”, Moazeb stated.
Muhammed al-Zubeidi, a professor of international law in Libya, told Sputnik that “there are currently 1,000 Italian military personnel in Libya. They were not withdrawn from the country, as officially announced. I know this form several local sources in Misrata and other places where clashes take place”.
According to the professor, the downed drone only confirms the presence of Italian military forces in Libya because it would be a challenge to operate this unmanned aircraft from Italy.
“The Italian forces are present in Libya to ensure the stable operation of the Greenstream gas pipeline, which transfers gas from the Libyan city of Mellitah to the gas terminal in the Sicilian city of Gela”, al-Zubeidi shared his views.
US Military Loses a Drone After Italy
The US Africa Command said on Friday that it lost a remotely piloted aircraft around Tripoli on Thursday. The drone was carrying out an operation to assess the area's security and terrorist activity.
“These operations are critical to counter-terror activity in Libya and are fully coordinated with appropriate government officials”, the military’s statement read.
The US and Italy played a key role in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi. But the war resulted in Gaddafi’s murder and plunged the country into civil war.
Libya is currently divided between two governments: the UN-formed GNA in Tripoli, that’s supported by Italy, and the eastern part controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
The LNA has been leading a military campaign to gain control of Tripoli since April.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.