last edits June 22
The Colonels Spill the Beans
It was Monday, February 21, less than a week after protests in Libya began. It had just become clear an armed rebellion had "liberated" most of the country's sizable cities, and all of the cities in the northeast. Desperate measures might be in order for any government wanting to re-establish order, when, on that day, the world was told, by two amazing whistle-blowers about one of these measures. The Tripoli Post reported two days later: Libyan Military Pilots Defect to Malta
Two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots on Monday defected and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters. [...] Maltese government authorities said that the two pilots, both colonels, took off from a base near Tripoli, and that one of them has even requested political asylum.
The two pilots, currently being questioned by the Maltese police, said they decided to fly to Malta after being ordered to bomb anti-government protesters in Libya's second largest city of Benghazi.
They are reported to have said that they had been asked to bomb their own people and would not. The bombs were on the aircraft and the guns were fully loaded with ammunition.
The story told by these pilots, being double-confirmed between them, and well in-line with the worst the West always presumed from Gaddafi, was taken as simple and solid fact. But the real fact is, only, that we have these pilots claiming their order was to destroy innocents with such overwhelming firepower. It wasn't to attack militant positions, where they had stolen cities by force and planned to overthrow the whole government. No, it was simple protesters they were sent to kill, because Gaddafi hates peaceful protest.
So early in the uprising and civil war, there was this widely seeded claim that Gaddafi was "bombing his own people" - or at least, had tried to have these two do it. There's been only the whispiest evidence of such attacks otherwise - numerous alarmist "reports," with no photos or video of the attacks, or even any consistent aftermath, like craters in the streets.
And against the word of the Malta pilots, there are stern government denials, satellite-based evidence (of some sort) claimed by the Russians, and common sense indicating it would be a stupid and suicidal thing to command. There are much better and cheaper ways to kill slow-moving crowds than with a Mirage (a helicopter, for example, can just hover instead of having to swoop over repeatedly).
Just the belief in this order paved the way for Gaddafi's destruction - talk of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from these supposed air attacks began the next day, February 22. And it was this trojan horse that unleashed the current air war for regime change that's already decimated Gaddafi's ground forces (up to one third of armor and soldiers incinerated), and killed one son and three grandchildren at least.
A Link to the Plotters?
Now, we know there was an air force colonel, Abdullah Gehani, arrested in late January for plotting against the government. Charged with civil aviation in Benghazi, he reportedly made contact with a European secret service in November 2010, and also with the protest planners.
Gehani might well have had some underlings on board as well, so that even after his arrest and the uprising's start, someone else could locate two trustworthy, disloyal fighter pilots for an important propaganda mission. Al Jazeera reported that both pilots were themselves "senior colonels," but otherwise there's been little or no detail about them. The whole story went pretty quiet once its purpose was served.
Most likely, this alleged order would only be disobeyed shortly before or even after takeoff. It would be an emotional, spur-of-the-moment decision. Neither of the colonels, in this supposed police state of informants and twisted loyalty, was too afraid the other would shoot him as a traitor. They both decided together it was time to flee, and while that's fully possible, it would work better with some agreement well before taking off - with or without orders to kill.
This is a cynical theory, but it can't be logically ruled out. Nor can their alleged mission, really, but it is inherently short on logic. The F-1 is not so good at crowd control, but it does excel at escaping quickly once it's been stolen, making it a perfect weapon for running off armed with live bombs and the lies that turned them to propaganda.
Mysterious Frenchmen: An Escort Mission?
Finally, what at first seems a peripheral oddity. The same day these guys landed in Malta, a few hours later it seems, two helicopters from Libya also landed. The Tripoli Post again:
On the same day police also questioned seven passengers who landed in Malta from Libya on board two French-registered helicopters, with Malta government sources saying the helicopters had left Libya without authorisation by the Libyan aviation authorities and that only one of the seven passengers - who say they are French citizens - had a passport.These people claimed to be simple oil workers, fleeing just after Benghazi had fallen. But they had not their proper ID, suggesting clandestine (or just forgetful?) work. They were from France, where the European end of arranging the protests was apparently based (Gehani's alleged contact was with the French DGSE). Who were they, and what were they doing in Libya in the days before the no-fly discussion started? They and their rides are covered a bit more in-depth at this follow-up post.
They might help explain the fighters, commissioned by the French-Rebel conduit, as escort duty on the first leg of the choppers' illegal (and slower) flight. I would suspect they all set out together from rebel-held Benghazi, despite the defector story of scrambling from Tripoli.
Any such protection might help explain the armaments, in case anyone tried to enforce the law. And it would be a nicely efficient double-mission - cover the whole unauthorized escape, then land with with the mental seeds of the rebels' NATO air support. It also works towards giving the game up. What are the odds the colonels would happen to fly off with this order and snap to the north on winds of conscience, just as these unauthorized clandestine Frenchmen were leaving?
Again, that would work better with some agreement well before taking off.
Update, June 22: Reader Felix left some comments beneath a related post, about the arrival of these pilots on Malta, which he witnessed. I mistook him for Maltese, but he was there only on holiday, he says.
This was a very important propaganda coup to launch the war to the gullible scribes of the west. I was fortunate to observe the arrival of the Libya jets above my head. Contemporary reports tell of the helicopters arriving shortly before the jets though I have no recollection of seeing them although there was much large helicopter activity during the week. Certainly the two jets did not arrive as defecting pilots might- whatever that might be - but they performed a kind of airshow above the Med some time before , swooping and circling like a display team. They then vanished out to sea again, before eventually returning according to the normal flightpath. I thought it extremely odd. As they landed overhead, the Libyan markings were visible from beneath.
It was only a brief show of skill - but they vanished for a while before returning in a straight descent as a tourist plane might make, one followed by the other about a minute later. I couldn't get out my camera as I was otherwise occupied. Only that evening did the signficance become apparent as I watched the news on Al Jazeera.
That would be an interesting addition - making sure to be noticed first, making a big show of their arrival, does seem less than consistent with someone escaping in fear and horror at the orders they were just given. Instead they show the flourish of someone delivering an important part of a big master plan they're excited to be part of.