A European Union mission to stop arms shipments to war-torn Libya is not “serious”, a senior US diplomat has said, accusing the bloc of not doing enough to end violations of a UN arms embargo by countries such as Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
David Schenker, the assistant secretary for Near East Affairs, said on Thursday the EU was biased and criticised only Turkey’s involvement in the conflict.
“The only interdictions that they [EU] are doing is of Turkish military material that they’re sending to Libya. Nobody is interdicting Russian aircraft, nobody is interdicting Emirati aircraft, nobody is interdicting the Egyptians,” Schenker told German Marshall Fund think-tank during a virtual discussion.
“They could at least, if they were serious, I think, call them out – call out all parties of the conflict when they violate the arms embargo,” he said.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The sometimes chaotic war that has drawn in outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
It is now split between two rival administrations vying for power: the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital, Tripoli, and a parallel eastern-based administration allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey is the major supporter of the GNA, which made major strides in recent weeks to repel a 14-month offensive by forces loyal to Haftar to seize Tripoli. Haftar’s eastern-based forces are backed by Egypt, the UAE and Russia.
The EU has set up Operation Irini to enforce the UN embargo, which has been repeatedly violated since its introduction in 2011.
Analysts say the fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness.
“There are two entry points to Libya, the western maritime border which Turkey is using to ship in weapons to the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, and the eastern border which Egypt and the United Arab Emirates use to support Haftar,” Anas el-Gomati, founder and director of the Sadeq Institute, told Al Jazeera after the launch of the mission in April.
“There is no doubt that Egypt and the UAE will emerge as the biggest winners. The Turks have no option but to ship their weapons by sea, and this is the terrain that is now being policed by the EU.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also complained last month that the EU mission did not do anything to stop other powers’ shipments into Libya, including what he alleged were arms being sent by France to Haftar.
France, which denies supporting Haftar but has long been suspected of favouring him, voiced fury last month after it said that one of its ships was subjected to Turkish frigates’ radar targeting while inspecting cargo en route to Libya.
Schenker also said the Europeans could take action against the Wagner Group, a shady Russian mercenary unit accused of backing Haftar.
“Maybe they are concerned about the backlash from Russia. But if they aren’t going to take on a more robust role, or a more serious role, then this thing is going to drag on,” he said of the Libyan conflict.
Washington has increasingly voiced concern about the heavy involvement of Russian mercenaries as well as other external powers and has called for de-escalation, but fighting has persisted.
A UN report in May said Wagner has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya, strengthening Haftar’s forces.