People gather at the scene of a Libyan war plane crash in the eastern city of Tobruk on Sept. 2, 2014. Three people were killed and nine injured when the plane crashed in a residential part of Tobruk, residents and medics said. The plane went down around one km (0.6 miles) from the seat of the country's elected parliament. The crash happened during a military event to honor the pilot of another war plane that had crashed last week, residents said. REUTERS/Stringer

Egyptian warplanes Wednesday began bombing Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya, the first time in decades the most populous Arab nation has used its aircraft to intervene militarily abroad, the Associated Press said. The planes are being flown by Libyan pilots, according to comments by Egyptian officials to the AP.

Despite the AP report, Egypt's presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef told Al-Ahram's Arabic news site that the report was "completely untrue."

Officials told the AP that the Egyptian operation in Libya, which is expected to last three to six months, involves the use of an Egyptian naval vessel as a command center off the Mediterranean shore of Tobruk, a city in the east of Libya. The operation was requested by the Libyan administration, which was ousted from Tripoli by rival Islamist militias in August. Just a few days prior to Islamist militias taking control of the capital, Tripoli, Egypt allowed the United Arab Emirates to use its forward operating bases to launch attacks on Islamist fighters vying for control of Tripoli.
The bombing by Egyptian warplanes comes just hours after Libyan army troops and armed residents clashed with the Islamist fighters in Benghazi.
Troops led by Khalifa Hifter, a renegade Libyan general, also entered Benghazi in an attempt to liberate it from Islamist militias connected to Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist organization thought to have played a part in the 2012 Benghazi attack on the U.S. consulate there.

Libya’s military has become fractionalized since the beginning of revolution that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi. Various financial backers have sent resources to specific groups in the military to give them an advantage over rival factions. On Monday, several Libyan military units, including a special forces group, said they would join Hifter in his fight against Islamist militias in Benghazi. Other military units, meanwhile, support Libya’s Tripoli-based government rather than Hifter.

Earlier this year Hifter began waging an insurgency dubbed Operation Dignity in Benghazi in an attempt to rid the country of Islamist militias. The fighting began in May when military forces loyal to Hifter launched an attack in Benghazi, using planes and helicopters to attack state-funded militias. In the following weeks, Hifter’s troops attacked parliament buildings in Tripoli. The violence caused several countries to close their consulates.

Hifter has gathered forces mostly in the eastern part of the nation, where he is from. He formerly supported Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi but turned against him during the war with Chad in the 1980s.
Officials working for Hifter said at the beginning of June that they were "expecting and waiting" for an Egyptian military operation inside the country that would help them overthrow the government, which they believe is led by Islamists.
According to Egypt's Al-Masryoon newspaper, Hifter said his country would cooperate with Egypt to fight "extremists" in both countries. He said he is leading a war on terrorism in Libya and that he would hand over to Egyptian soldiers the leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who have sought refuge in Libya.
The U.S. along with 13 other countries and the United Nations signed a comminuque in September urging all parties in Libya to refrain from using violence. The communique also rejected any "outside interference." It is unclear if the U.S. government views the Egyptian warplanes bombing Libya as "outside interference" because the planes were flown by Libyans.