In talks with Russia and Egypt, Haftar seeks to counter foreign involvement

Turkey and Qatar, with the help of Italy, are working to support the militias in Tripoli, Libyan political sources said.
Tuesday 16/04/2019
 Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar (L) at the Ittihadia presidential Palace in the capital Cairo, on April 14, 2019. (AFP)
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar (L) at the Ittihadia presidential Palace in the capital Cairo, on April 14, 2019. (AFP)

TUNIS - Libyan National Army commander Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar moved to win international support for the military campaign to gain control of Tripoli while his forces drew out armed militias to the outskirts of the Libyan capital.

It was reported that Haftar was in Moscow on an official visit. He was also in Cairo, where he was received by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on April 14 along with Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Director Abbas Kamel, one of the senior Egyptian officials in charge of the Libyan and regional files.

Bassam Radi, spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said Sisi and Haftar discussed developments in Libya, including the Tripoli military operation. Egypt, which supports Haftar's army, wants to see stability in Tripoli, a comprehensive solution to the country's conflict and an end to the expansion of militias and extremist elements.

Fawzi al-Haddad, a Libyan researcher at Omar al-Mukhtar University, said the Libyan situation is crucial to Cairo and the meeting between Sisi and Haftar was an attempt to reach an understanding on how to ease the expected international pressure on the Libyan army to stop the fighting.

Reports said Haftar stopped in Cairo on his way back from Moscow where he had met with Russian military and political officials about the battle for Tripoli, in light of Turkish and Italian military movements in Misrata.

Russia vetoed a UN Security Council statement calling on the Libyan National Army to stop operations in Tripoli.

Libyan political sources confirmed that Haftar visited Moscow before visiting Cairo. The sources said Haftar knew Turkey and Qatar would not remain silent about the battle for Tripoli and would provide support for the militias in Tripoli and Misrata or by asking European countries to intervene directly.

Libyan political activist Kamal al-Mir’ash said Haftar could have asked the Russians to provide offensive air systems to counter possible threats from the airbase in Misrata and requested the Egyptians monitor Libya's airspace and territorial waters.

Haftar’s Cairo visit came as his forces were struggling to reach the centre of Tripoli, a military gamble on wearing out the militias in the city by opening multiple fronts along the southern axis and with the support of Egypt.

However, due to moves by Turkey and some European countries in Libya’s air space and territorial waters, the army adjusted its operations by intensifying pressure on the armed militias with missiles and air strikes targets in the vicinity of the capital

Political sources in Egypt hinted that Cairo would not hesitate to support the Libyan army. The Egyptian Army has carried out operations targeting militia centres in Libya. The sources said such operations could recur in Libya if Egypt’s national security was threatened.

Speaking by phone from Paris, Mir’ash said the timing of Haftar’s Cairo visit was important for two reasons: that it occurred after Haftar’s visit to Moscow and Sisi’s meeting in Washington with US President Donald Trump.

The General Command of the Libyan Army “had detected and monitored flights by foreign aircraft in the Libyan airspace, taking off from the airfield of the air force academy in Misrata, where 1,800 Italian military personnel are stationed,” Mir’ash said.

Mir’ash said Italy “had provided the militias in control of the air force academy with modern radar and sophisticated air defence systems that prevented the Libyan Air Force from targeting them.”

He added that foreign military personnel were observed in Misrata when Turkey began stepping up its intervention in Libyan affairs by providing more logistical support to the militias, including personnel, weapons and ammunition.

Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Mismari, the spokesman for the Libyan army's General Command, said April 13 that Turkey was involved in supporting militias in Tripoli. “There are flights from Turkey carrying former al-Nusra fighters who had fought in Syria towards Libya,” he said.

Mismari said Turkey “also sends weapons directly to Misrata and Tripoli via Malta.” He said the number of foreign militants in Tripoli had “increased significantly, and we have proof that foreigners are piloting the aircraft of the [UN-recognised] Government of National Accord in raids on Libyan sites.”

Mismari said the airfield at the air force academy in Misrata “has become a full-blown Italian base" and warned Italy against interfering in Libyan affairs.