The United States does not support the offensive of Libya's eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar against Tripoli and believes Russia is working with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer militia fighters and equipment to Libya, senior U.S. officials said Thursday.
"The United States does not support the LNA action against Tripoli," Henry Wooster, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said on a conference call. "The attack on the capital diverts resources from what is a priority for us, which is counterterrorism."
Haftar launched a war a year ago to grab the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwest Libya. Since 2014, Libya has been split between areas controlled by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the northwest, and territory held by Haftar's eastern-based forces in Benghazi.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey. The U.N. Security Council had imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011 amid an uprising that ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya is a messy battlefield with a heavy involvement by foreign fighters. The United States and the United Nations have warned against the deepening footprint of Russian private contractor forces while Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have also deployed drones, according to diplomats.
U.S. Special Envoy Jim Jeffrey, speaking to reporters on the same call, said the battlefield could get even more complicated. "We know that, certainly the Russians are working with Assad to transfer militia fighters, possibly third country, possibly Syrian to Libya, as well as equipment," he said.
© 2021 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.