The Associated Press reports: Libya’s Interior Ministry, along with the country’s the U.N. ambassador and the commander of the air force, backed a renegade general’s offensive against Islamist lawmakers and extremist militias, further building support Wednesday for a campaign the government has described as a coup.
The show of support for Gen. Khalifa Hifter appears to have triggered a heavy backlash.
Libya’s navy chief Brig. Gen. Hassan Abu-Shanaq, some of whose units have allied with Hifter, was wounded in an assassination attempt in the capital, Tripoli, early Wednesday, along with his driver and a guard, the official news agency LANA said. The night before, the air forces headquarters in Tripoli came under a rocket attack but no casualties were reported.
Hifter has been leading an armed revolt in perhaps the biggest challenge yet to the country’s weak central government and fledgling security forces. He says his campaign, dubbed “Operation Dignity,” aims to break the power of Islamists who lead parliament and whom he accuses of opening the door to extremism and fueling Libya’s chaos.
Scores of Libyan military units and commanders have made already made loyalty pledges to Hifter’s “Libyan National Army” and his offensive, which began Friday, first against Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi. A number of powerful militias also back Hifter, including ones from the western city of Zintan and Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: [Ahmed Matiq, named prime minister two weeks ago in a disputed vote,] said at a news conference Wednesday that he wouldn’t step aside. Libyans “don’t want to return to having a military body rule them,” he said, presumably referring to Hifter.
A leader of one of the most powerful Islamist militias in Benghazi warned the ex-general not to try to take over the city.
“If he ever thinks of coming into Benghazi it will be his grave, like it was Gaddafi’s grave,” said Ismail Salabi, a leader of the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade. He also echoed a common criticism by Hifter’s opponents — that he was trying to carry out a coup. “If he is looking for power he should remove his military uniform and go into politics,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Barbara Slavin reports: US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said Wednesday that she would not condemn the actions of Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a former officer in Moammar Gadhafi’s army who has declared war on Islamic “terrorists” in Libya and forced the country to call new parliamentary elections for June 25.
Speaking at the Stimson Center in Washington, Jones repeated US State Department assertions that the Barack Obama administration did not support and had no advance knowledge of Hifter’s actions — which included sending forces to kill scores of Islamist fighters in eastern Libya last week and storming Libya’s parliament in Tripoli over the weekend. But she added that “it’s very difficult to step up and condemn” Hifter given that his forces are “going after very specific groups … on our list of terrorists.”
“I am not going to come out and condemn blanketly what he did,” she said.
Hifter defected from Gadhafi’s military two decades ago after a failed war in Chad and moved to northern Virginia where he acquired US citizenship. He has claimed that the US government backed him in the 1990s in unsuccessful efforts to overturn the Gadhafi regime.
Karim Mezran, an expert on Libya at the Atlantic Council, told Al-Monitor that there are “widespread rumors that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates” are backing Hifter in hopes that he will expunge the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist elements from the Libyan government and even take power as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi did in Egypt after ousting President Mohammed Morsi. “If they can conquer the east, the military balance will be in their favor,” Mezran said of Hifter’s forces.
Jones, asked by Al-Monitor if Egypt and the UAE were behind Hifter, who staged a failed coup in February, said, “I have nothing for you on than that” — the diplomatic equivalent of a non-denial — but that “Libyans who reside in the UAE and Egypt support him.” She added, “I hear a lot of support of his actions against these groups but less for him as an individual. The jury is still out because it’s not clear what the agenda is behind this.” [Continue reading…]