By Essam Mohamed
One year after Libyan rebels dislodged the Kadhafi government, many still struggle with the aftershocks of the civil war. Even as life returns to normal and the new government takes control, signs of instability and security fears persist.
Most telling of them is the unnerving sound of reconnaissance planes hovering over Libyan cities.
“Citizens object to them because of their noise or because of people’s sensitivity about foreign espionage. To Libyans, they are foreign planes,” military advisor Dhaoui Bouras told Magharebia.
However, despite the inconveniences the drones cause to daily life, they play an important role in holding security dangers at bay, Bouras said.
“These planes can make good contributions to the counter-terrorism effort based on intelligence and aerial reconnaissance by Libyans in the Libyan army. They are excellent for protecting security and providing information on suspicious movements,” he said.
Foreign planes operate in the country under the UN Chapter 7, “to which Libya is still subjected”, Bouras noted.
The chapter allows military and non-military action to stave off “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression”. In March 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, which authorised all possible means to protect civilians against Moamer Kadhafi’s forces.
“The allied forces were effective in taking out Kadhafi’s forces and security during the revolution thanks to these planes,” military communications officer Abdel Razzak al-Bakhbakhi told Magharebia.
“These planes provide major solutions for collecting information and they are cheaper and easier to use than regular planes, especially as our country has a large land area and we have long borders with several countries,” he said.
This type of aircraft can be used by Libyan border guards to intercept drug dealers and combat trafficking, al-Bakhbakhi added.
According to former high-ranking air force officer Asad al-Alem, the planes are “an important” element in providing security and hunting down terrorists.
Their key purpose is to “monitor and collect information”, commented security analyst Juma Naoufel al-Meshri. But operations must be restricted to espionage, he argued.
“Any attempt to launch any missiles will get us into a whirlpool that we don’t know how to get out of,” Al-Meshri said.
In Benghazi, residents see these reconnaissance planes all the time. The disruptions they cause to daily life have become a common joke in the city.
“Come, pilot, have dinner with us and stop disturbing us,” locals say.
People are far more serious when it comes to the gravity of security challenges weighing on post-war Libya.
Libya still faces a number of serious threats, from arms smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal immigration to assassinations and explosions, Tripoli teacher Mahasin bin Mahmoud told Magharebia.
“We have a confidence crisis with the government,” said Embarka Amraja, a medical school student and member of the Islamist Justice and Construction Party in Benghazi.
“We have to have confidence so as to build the state and address all of its issues, the most prominent of which is the security file and the integration of revolutionaries,” Amraja added.
Even though many Libyans do not see the reason and effects of “these noisy planes” and only hear their “disturbing buzz”, reconnaissance planes bear unseen positive fruits, opined student Salma al-Tarhuni.
“The use of drones is sometimes made for protection,” engineering student Assad agreed.
Legal activist Amira Jribi said, “If such planes are respecting our sovereignty and are operating out from our national airports, then they are welcome.”
“In this case, they will definitely make citizens feel secure,” Jibri added. “But if they are roaming our skies without a justification, this will be a clear breach of our national sovereignty, and if they are roaming our skies under agreements, the people must be advised of the details of these agreements because they are directly related to our country’s security.”
But the main counter-terror battle must unfold elsewhere, the activist pointed out. “People like us must stand up against terrorism here on the ground before it is countered in the skies,” she said.