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Operation Harmattan; Cambrai-Epinoy, March 31, 2011

The French Mirage 2000 in Action; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Thursday, March 31, 2011, I was welcome at the French airbase Cambrai-Epinoy. EC1/12 is stationed at this French airbase. This unit flies the Mirage 2000. This aircraft type is currently deployed to Libya to maintain the no-fly zone over this country. This happened under the codename Operation Harmattan.

Operation Dawn Odyssey is the codename for the military actions of the United States Air Force in Libya to maintain the no-fly zone over the country. The United States are part of an international coalition. This no-fly zone was established by the United Nations Security Council with Resolution 1973. France is part of the international coalition to achieve this goal; the coalition is also called “The Coalition of the Willing”. The goal is to make an end to the attacks on civilians by the forces of Libyan army which is lead by Muammar al-Qadhafi. Qadhafi has violated the UN resolution on March 18, 2011. His army attacked the city of Benghazi with tanks during the morning hours. Also the western city of Zintan was bombed by Qadhafi’s forces and his tanks approached the city. An international summit on Libya was held in Paris on March 19. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of the United States, the European Union and the Arab League were present at this top council. There was decided to proceed with military actions against Qadhafi. France's share in this operation is called Operation Harmattan. The Harmattan is a dry and dusty wind blowing over the southern part of the Sahara towards the Gulf of Guinea between November and March. This wind takes small particles with a size of between 0.5 and 10 microns with it over the desert. The wind can also carry dust and sand to South America when it is strong enough. Different types of aircraft of the French Air Force are involved during these actions. It is the first time for the Dassault Rafale to operate in a war scenario.

The Rafales were the first planes of the coalition which invaded the Libyan airspace on March 19. They flew several reconnaissance missions to identify targets and they attacked a few Libyan tanks. The following fighters of the French Air Force were involved in the operation until now; 8x Rafale of EC 01.007 from Saint-Dizier-Robinson, 6x Mirage 2000-5 of EC 01.002 from Dijon-Longvic, 6x Mirage 2000D EC of 03.003

from Nancy-Ochey and 2x Mirage F1CR of ER-02.033 from Reims-Champagne. These aircraft were supported by several KC-135 tankers and C-160 Transall transport aircraft. The French Navy participated from the Mediterranean with the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. On board of this ship were the following planes; 10x Rafale M, 6x Super Etendard, 2x E-2C Hawkeye and various support helicopters. On March 24, French fighter planes attacked the Libyan airbase. The planes which were involved were the Rafale and the Mirage 2000. Among the weapons they used were GP SCALP missiles. The Rafale, Mirage 2000D and Super Etendard flew together four interdiction missions against Libyan ground targets. A French Mirage 2000C shot down one Galeb during these actions. This light attack aircraft was trying to land to escape from the coalition attack. There were five more aircraft destroyed of this type on the ground by French Rafales on March 26. The Mirage 2000D's used GBU-12 laser guided bombs during an assault on an artillery battery near Ajdabiyah. Two patrol flights equipped with Rafales and Mirage 2000D's and a patrol equipped with Marine Rafales and Super Etendards aircraft attacked a few anti aircraft batteries on March 29. These batteries were located 60 miles southwest of Tripoli. Two joint patrols from France and Qatar Mirage 2000-5F aircraft will fly air defense missions during the attacks.

The planes at Cambrai are currently not involved in operations in Libya. Therefore the base was flying normal operational training missions. I had to report myself at the main gate of this French airbase at ten o'clock. The weather today was not good. The sky was gray and from time to time there were heavy showers. Fortunately, it would remain dry during the entire visit. We were driven by bus to the main platform after a brief check. When we arrived, we immediately saw a Mirage which took off. A good sign, because now we knew that there was flying activity at Cambrai. It didn’t take long before the first action took place. There were two Mirages on the platform being prepared for a flight. The first engines were started after fifteen minutes. The pilots had indicated that they would use the taxi track in front of us. The taxi lights on the nose gear of the Mirages were nice because of the dark weather. Especially when the aircraft turned towards me. A third Mirage appeared from the shelter area next to the platform. This aircraft also taxied along us. We entered the big maintenance hangar after the departure of the three Mirages. Here we saw two Mirages which underwent minor repairs. Both aircraft were in excellent positions for some decent photos.

After lunch we were brought to another location on the field. We were located on a hill at the head of the main runway. There were two flights scheduled for this afternoon. It did not take long before these two machines appeared. Our guide knew the exact details of the afternoon flight plan. The two Mirages taxied along us to the head of the runway. This brought me some very nice photos. Both planes lined up on the runway after a while. The Mirage took off with full afterburner after a few minutes. The gloomy weather brought me a few spectacular action photos. The second aircraft took off short behind the first one. We got a short briefing from a Mirage pilot at Cambrai after the departure of the Mirages. We were driven to the end of the runway before the landing of the two Mirages. The aircraft which landed were checked at this location. A Belgian Marchetti landed for a fuel stop during our lunch. This aircraft was parked on the cross-service platform. Again we made some nice pictures. Our guide told us that also a Dauphin was expected for a refueling stop. This happened just after the departure of the Marchetti. This gave me the most beautiful photos of the day. It was the first time that I had the chance to make a decent photo of the Dauphin; I was very happy with it. Two more Mirages departed after the arrival of the Dauphin. Our visit to Cambrai was over when those aircraft left the airbase. The visit to Cambrai was a very good visit; I was able to shoot some wonderful action shots.

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