Libya – France in the dock

Summary: deaths since April pass 1,000. France admits involvement with Haftar’s forces.Since our posting on Libya just a week ago there have been interesting developments, mainly on the international front. On 9 July the UN said that the battle between rival militias for Tripoli had killed more than 1,000 people since it began in April.

On 6 July the Tripoli Prime Minister Fayiz al-Sarraj met President Erdoğan in Istanbul; Erdoğan said he supported al-Sarraj, and called for an end to attacks by Haftar’s “illegal militia”.

On 7 July Tripoli airport was briefly out of action following “a fall of missiles” which injured three airline employees, and one flight was diverted to Misrata before Tripoli reopened.

Following the attack on the Tajura detention centre on 2 July, where the death toll rose to 53 dead with more than 130 injured, the UN Security Council met on 3 July, but was unable to reach agreement, until on 5 July it issued a statement condemning the attack in the blandest possible terms. The delay was apparently caused by the US, where the White House and the State Department have differing positions. Amnesty International said what the Security Council did not say: “The UN arms embargo is meant to protect civilians in Libya. But Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, among others, are blatantly flouting it by providing sophisticated armoured vehicles, drones, guided missiles and other weapons. The UN Security Council must urgently take steps to enforce the embargo…”

The two main Libyan adversaries continue to accuse each other of responsibility for the attack. On 3 July Khalid al-Mishri, head of the High Council of State (aligned with the Tripoli government), tweeted pointing the finger at Egypt. His accusation has not been widely reported or supported. Egypt has given air support to the LNA in the past.

On 5 July Time reported that the Tripoli government had arrested two men, one of them Russian, accused of working for a Russian troll farm seeking to influence elections in Libya and other African countries. They were accused of securing a meeting with Saif al-Islam Qadhafi (who is said to have been released from prison, but whose whereabouts are unknown). The story probably has more resonance in Washington than in Tripoli; elections in Libya are unlikely in the near future, and Saif al-Islam is unlikely to have a star role.

On 9 July the New York Times reported that a State Department investigation had concluded that the four US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles (sophisticated weapons at $170,000 a shot), recovered by pro-Tripoli government forces when Gharyan was taken from Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, had been sold to France which bought Javelins in 2010. France confirmed yesterday 10 July that the missiles belong to the French military but denied supplying them to Haftar, and said they were therefore not subject to import restrictions. They were damaged and unusable, and were stocked pending destruction; they had been intended for the “protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out counter-terrorism operations… France has long supported all established forces engaged in the fight against terrorism, in Libya, in the Tripoli area and in Cyrenaica (the east of the country), as well as more broadly in the Sahel.” There have been many reports of French involvement with and support of Haftar, and of French special forces operations in Libya, but this was the first official confirmation of any of those reports.

Assuming this version is true, it does not explain earlier reports that the missiles had UAE markings; according to Jane’s “The Javelin containers were marked with a contract number (W31P4Q-04-C-0136) that covered a July 2008 order for USD103 million worth of Javelin missiles, launchers, and support equipment for the UAE and Oman. The only other deliveries covered by that contract appear to have gone to the US military.” Nor of course does it affect reports that other weapons recovered at Gharyan were sourced from the UAE, including Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles and the Pantsyr air defence system.

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