Saturday, July 2, 2016

General Khalifa Haftar visits both Cairo and Moscow seeking support

Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) General Khalifa Haftar, is in Moscow on a visit after a meeting in Cairo. The LNA is associated with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR).

Haftar and his delegation traveled to Cairo by private jet from Tobruk with a nine-member military delegation. He was expected to meet with a Russian delegation there. He stayed only a day and then flew on to Moscow.
Sputnik reports on his visit to Moscow. Haftar is called "the Libyan armed forces commander," a phrase that is interesting since only the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is recognized by the UN and most of the international community. Neither the HoR nor Haftar recognize the GNA. Russia seems to be at the same time expressing support for the GNA but not recognizing it as fully legitimate until there is a vote of confidence by the HoR. To the Russians its term has not started even though it has been up and running for some time in Tripoli, at least in the naval base. It seems to lack control over the many militia. The agenda of the visit was not disclosed.
Another report said Haftar had been in Cairo to seek support for Operation Dignity and his fight against terrorist militia in Libya. Abu Baira, a member of the HoR said that Haftar's visit to Egypt comes within the framework of continuing consultations with Egyptian authorities. Baira said: “Afterwards, he went to Russia to seek support for the Libyan army against the militias.” The report notes that the international community is making moves to partially lift the arms embargo imposed on Libya. However, the UN is not likely to authorize any arms sales to Haftar unless he agrees to join a unified force with the GNA and approve the unity government.
There are signs that some deal with Haftar may be in the making. Haftar has changed his position on working with militia loyal to the GNA and also his critical view of Misrata militia. On the other hand, the GNA head Faiez Serraj is emphasizing the need for a unified command with all Libyan forces, and this would include Haftar and the GNA. Serraj said: "We are convinced that the only way to end this organisation (IS) is through a united military command that brings together all Libyans from every region of the country." This is a strange statement to make given that the Islamic State is virtually defeated as it is surrounded by forces loyal to the GNA in Sirte and this was achieved without any unification with Haftar forces,. Haftar has not taken part in the Sirte offensive at all after announcing more than three weeks ago that he would liberate Sirte. The statement shows though that Serraj is anxious to have Haftar on board. This view may not be shared by some other members of the GNA.
According to the Libya Herald, Haftar is in Moscow in part to seek spare parts for warplanes along with fresh weaponry. Haftar had preliminary talks with the Russians while in Cairo. From the Egyptians he is said to have received promises of support in training and logistics but also weapons supplies. Haftar has visited Moscow previously and seems to have achieved the indirect delivery of four helicopter gunships Mi-35s. The helicopters may have been delivered through the UAE which apparently does not use them. While Russia is not likely to openly violate the UN arms embargo on Libya it could provide Haftar with intelligence and technical support. Perhaps it could also provide weapons surreptitiously through the UAE as well.
There are reports that the president of the HoR, Ageela Saleh also went to Russia. If he did so the meeting of the HoR planned for today will no doubt be canceled. Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), had tweeted yesterday that he was going to Tobruk to encourage HoR members to vote confidence in the GNA. So far there are no reports of what is going on if anything.


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