Two crew members ejected safely from their U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle when the plane experienced a mechanical failure over northeast Libya on Monday night, the U.S. military has announced.
A Telegraph journalist first discovered the crashed plane around the opposition headquarters of Benghazi. The paper reports that rebels rescued at least one of the crew members, and that both crew members sustained only minor injuries. The military is insisting that the plane was not shot down. The F-15 is the first coalition aircraft to crash land since air strikes began on Saturday night. The military says the cause of the incident is under investigation.
As the coalition persists with its airstrikes and forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi continue to clash with rebels--with particularly heavy fighting in the western city of Misrata in recent hours--questions are also cropping up about who exactly is leading the military intervention in Libya and whether Arab states firmly support the operation.
The New York Times explains that while the U.S. is currently coordinating the mission, it has said it will soon cede control to NATO to enforce the international community's no-fly zone and arms embargo. Britain and Italy want NATO to take command but France is opposed. On Monday, France's foreign minister declared that the Arab League doesn't want NATO to lead the operation, adding that it "isn’t NATO which has taken the initiative up to now.” Instead, France wants the coalition to jointly have political control over the mission. Italy is threatening to halt the coalition's use of its military bases if NATO doesn't take charge.
What's explains the divisions? Yahoo's Laura Rozen notes that the Italians, the U.K., and the U.S. believe that NATO is best equipped to take control of the mission. The French, meanwhile, worry that NATO is viewed with suspicion in the Arab world and that Turkey and Germany--which object to military intervention--will impede NATO's efforts, according to one expert.
One expert tells Rozen that behind the feud is "the reality that it is only the United States that has the combination of satellite targeting and precision strike capabilities in terms of cruise missiles that are critical to overall command and control and situational awareness."
There's also concern about the commitment of Arab states to the campaign. Qatar has pledged fighter jets to the international mission, but the head of the Arab League recently expressed reservations about air strikes hitting Libyan civilians and the United Arab Emirates has walked back its commitment to contributing aircraft to the no-fly zone effort.
On Thursday, the former head of the United Arab Emirates' air force said that the U.A.E.'s decision stemmed from a rift between Gulf states and the U.S. and Europe over the west's failure to appreciate the extent to which Shiite-ruled Iran is interfering in the Shiite-led uprising in Bahrain. The U.A.E. has joined Saudi Arabia in sending troops into Bahrain to help the Sunni monarchy maintain order. "What's going on in Bahrain is much beyond our Western allies to understand," Major General Khalid Al Buainnain said. "It is a complete conspiracy of the Iranians in the region."
12:57 pm - In other aircraft news, Al Jazeera is reporting that Western warplanes attacked a Qaddafi military aircraft heading toward Benghazi on Tuesday, in what appears to be the conflict's first plane-to-plane combat, according to the Telegraph.
1:18 pm - The AP has also posted footage of the crashed U.S. fighter jet: