Military officials with Libya’s internationally-recognized government say they have seized sophisticated US missiles and weaponry at a base they captured from forces allied to renegade General Khalifa Haftar in the south of the capital, Tripoli.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) retook the southern strategic town of Gharyan, home to the main supply base of eastern forces attacking the capital, from Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) on Wednesday.
The GNA announced on Saturday that among the weaponry its forces had seized were four US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles packed in wooden crates marked “armed forces of the United Arab Emirates”.
The GNA officials said the markings indicated that the missiles – jointly manufactured by the arms giants Raytheon and Lockheed Martin – had originally been sold to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a major buyer of US arms and one of Haftar’s main supporters.
“The seized weapons and ammunition have been sent to the specialized experts and have been documented,” Mohammed Qununu, spokesman of the GNA’s military operation, told reporters in Gharyan.
“The military commanders and the political leaders are now fully aware of these weapons and ammunition to make the right decisions that will be announced.”
United Nations reports have previously said that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been arming Haftar’s forces since 2014.
UN arms embargo violation
The New York Times, confirming the discovery of American missiles by the GNA in a report on Saturday, said the UAE’s Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba had declined to answer questions about the provenance of the missiles.
The American daily, however, said it would be in breach of both the terms of the sale and a UN arms embargo on the conflict-ridden Libya if the missiles were found to have been sold or transferred to forces under Haftar’s command.
The GNA has reportedly launched a fact-finding mission with the goal of producing a report that would be submitted to the United Nations as well as other international organizations.
Officials at the US State Department and the Pentagon also said they had opened investigations into how the weapons had ended up on the Libyan battlefield.
“We take all allegations of misuse of US origin defense articles very seriously. We are aware of these reports and are seeking additional information,” a State Department spokesperson said on condition of anonymity. “We expect all recipients of US origin defense equipment to abide by their end-use obligations.”
The US government’s support for Haftar, however, is beyond doubt.
Libya’s GNA headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has already called on US President Donald Trump to stop support for “aspiring military dictator”.
The US president, in a phone call with the military strongman in April, “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.”
Forces loyal to Haftar launched an offensive on April 4 to capture Tripoli. Since then, fighting has killed 653 people, wounded more than 2,000 and displaced over 93,000, according to the UN.
Libya has been the scene of increasing violence since 2011, when former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power after an uprising and a NATO military intervention.
His ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.
The country has been divided between two rival governments, the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk and the GNA in Tripoli.