Libya unity government wants warplanes to fight ISIS

Sunday 15/05/2016
Kony: Our priority is to revive army

TRIPOLI - Libya's new unity government said Tuesday it wants warplanes and helicopters to fight jihadists as it hailed international support for lifting a longstanding embargo on weapons sales.

International backing to lift the embargo, in place since 2011, is "fundamental to the creation of a strong army... capable of fighting the jihadist Islamic State group and other extremist groups", Deputy Prime Minister Mussa al-Kony said.

On Monday, the United States, Italy and Libya's friends and neighbours agreed to arm its fledgling Government of National Accord to confront the threat from ISIS as the GNA seeks to assert its authority.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said a 25-member group agreed to exempt the GNA from the UN arms embargo imposed since the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's regime five years ago.

"State institutions have collapsed because the army itself fell apart. Our priority today is to unify this institution and revive it, but without weapons we cannot do this," Kony said.

"What we want is to acquire all sorts of weaponry... but our priority is aircraft," he said.

"We want pilots, helicopters and warplanes."

On Monday in Vienna, GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj requested both equipment and training which the international ministers present were ready to support.

World powers, Kerry said, will support the GNA's exemption "from the UN arms embargo to acquire those weapons and bullets needed to fight Daesh (ISIS) and other terrorist groups".

ISIS has seized upon the chaos pervading Libya in the wake of the revolution to carve out a sizeable enclave around the Mediterranean city of Sirte.

The Vienna talks came as Sarraj has sought for the past month and a half to assert the GNA's authority in Tripoli and as ISIS launched probes westwards out of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown which it has controlled since last June.

Political strife and a security vacuum in Libya since 2014 have made it easier for ISIS to establish itself, constituting a direct threat both to the country's neighbours and to Europe.

Europe fears the jihadists could use Sirte's port and airport as a springboard to attack the continent.

The international community, particularly European powers, are also concerned about a stream of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya's unsecured coast.