The United States has called on Libyan renegade General Khalifa Haftar to stop a months-long offensive on Tripoli and said it would back the country’s internationally recognised government against “Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict”.
The statement was the most explicit call by Washington against the self-styled Libyan National Army of Haftar, who was earlier praised by President Donald Trump.
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“The United States calls on the ‘Libyan National Army’ to end its offensive on Tripoli,” the US State Department said in a joint statement released on Thursday after talks with a delegation from Libya‘s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord in Washington.
Libya has been split between rival camps based in Tripoli and the east since 2014, a result of the divisions that surfaced following the NATO-backed overthrow of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi three years earlier.
Haftar’s LNA launched an offensive in April to seize the capital and has been battling forces aligned with the GNA.
He is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and most recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials. The LNA denies it has foreign backing.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that the Russian mercenaries were believed to be controlled by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, an allegation denied by Moscow.
“The US delegation, representing a number of US government agencies, underscored support for Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people,” the statement said.
In a move seen by some as a sign Washington might be backing Haftar, Trump called the eastern-based commander in the first weeks of the offensive, which has left more than 1,000 people dead and failed to breach Tripoli’s defences.
Trump “recognised Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said at the time.
But the US later distanced itself from Haftar and joined calls for a ceasefire.