Libya’s Haftar seeks to train forces in Jordan
Amman - Libya’s internationally recognised government is seeking to train its forces in anti-terrorism tactics to bolster its defences in the face of a growing militant threat to the North African country.
Libya’s controversial army chief, General Khalifa Haftar, turned to Jordan to arrange the training in a recent visit. Haftar specifically wanted his forces to be trained in anti-terrorism and special forces operations — Jordan’s speciality — according to a Jordan-based Western diplomat, whose country is involved in global efforts to end Libya’s split.
Since the 2011 revolt that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, Libyans have been divided along tribal and ideological lines. After the June 2014 elections (in which liberals won a plurality of the votes), the country was virtually split in two vying camps.
A Tripoli-based Islamist cabinet and parliament have been challenging the authority of the internationally recognised cabinet and parliament, both based in Tobruk. Armed groups loyal to the two groups have been battling for control of Libyan cities and oil wealth.
Taking advantage of the chaos, the militant Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed its presence in three parts of the country, Barqa to the east, Fezzan to the south, and Tripolitania to the west.
The group has claimed several deadly attacks inside the country — most recently the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Coptic workers in February and twin bombings of the South Korean and Moroccan embassies in Tripoli on April 12th.
Libya’s political divisions and chaos attracted jihadists from a handful of countries, mainly from the Arab world. The gunmen who attacked a Tunisian museum in March, killing 22 people, mostly tourists, were reportedly trained in Libya. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack but Tunisian authorities accused an al-Qaeda affiliated organisation of involvement.
Haftar’s visit to Jordan underlined the importance his government attaches to training its forces. The 72-year-old general rarely travels outside Libya, where he commands forces loyal to the Tobruk government.
He was sworn in on March 9th as the new army chief and, a week after his nomination by the elected parliament, Haftar was promoted to general.
In Jordan, Haftar made his training request in a closed-door meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, an active member of an Arab coalition battling rival Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen and also a US-led alliance fighting ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria.
“General Haftar asked if he could have Libyan forces trained in anti-terrorism and special forces operations,” the Western diplomat told The Arab Weekly in an interview. He declined to be identified, citing diplomatic sensitivities.
The diplomat said, however, that Haftar may initially want to have some 10,000 forces trained. Libya’s army and police, which were largely neglected under Qaddafi, were stretched thin and drained during the 2011 revolution and the subsequent violence and chaos.
Jordan released few details on Haftar’s talks, which included a separate meeting with the Jordanian army’s joint chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Mashal Zaben.
A Royal Palace statement following the April 13th meeting with Abdullah said the monarch voiced support for Libya’s effort to confront “terrorist organisations”.
On Haftar’s talks with the Jordanian army chief, the official Petra news agency said both men discussed closer cooperation between their armies, but did not elaborate.
But Jordanian state television showed Haftar, accompanied by Zaben, visiting an army training facility in Jordan’s eastern Yajouz desert, where Jordanian special operations and anti-terrorism squads are trained.
Government spokesman Mohammed Momani declined to disclose details on Haftar’s talks. “We’re not going to go beyond what we already said,” he told The Arab Weekly in a text reply message to a query on Haftar’s training request.
The statements by the palace and Petra underlined Jordan’s longstanding policy of hushed diplomacy, especially on sensitive security matters related to other Arab countries.
In the last few years, Jordan trained forces from various Arab states — some were supervised by the United States — such as Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The country is reputed to command some of the Arab world’s best special operations, commando, quick mobilisation and anti-terror squads, trained by the Americans, British and other Westerners but it seems unlikely that Jordan or any other Arab country would dispatch ground forces to help the Tobruk government.
Haftar’s forces has until now been remained unable to dislodge rival Islamist militias from Tripoli despite numerous claims of imminent “liberation” of the Libyan capital.
The two sides have been negotiating to end months of fighting. UN envoy Bernardino Leon has proposed keeping Libya’s elected parliament and setting up a national unity government of independents.
Leon said in a meeting with feuding Libyans in Algeria on April 13th that they were “close to a political solution.”
Foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States called in a joint statement on Libya’s rival factions to agree on an “unconditional” ceasefire at their talks.
The international community is pushing for a deal, anxious that Libya’s chaos could destabilise its neighbours and may even have adverse fallouts on Europe itself.
Haftar seems to have a different opinion. Expressing scepticism at the talks, he told the Associated Press that he rejected a ceasefire with the militias and was “betting on a military solution” if a deal remains elusive. Seeking support for his objectives, Haftar has embarked on a tour of Jordan and other Middle East countries.
“A few drone strikes or a few military operations” will not be enough to end the Libya crisis, has cautioned in recent days US President Barack Obama as he received Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the White House.