Haftar, El-Sisi hold talks as Libya death toll rises to 120

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, right, meets with the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, in Cairo, Egypt, on April 14, 2019. (Egyptian Presidency Media office via AP)
Updated 15 April 2019

Haftar, El-Sisi hold talks as Libya death toll rises to 120

  • International pressure mounts for halt to Tripoli offensive
  • Egypt says it supports UN efforts for a political solution as the only option to preserve Libya’s safety and territorial integrity

CAIRO:  Eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Haftar met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for talks in Cairo on Monday amid mounting international pressure for a halt to the battle of Tripoli.

More than 120 people have been killed and nearly 600 wounded in fighting since Haftar launched an offensive on April 4 to take the Libyan capital.

Libya’s UN-backed government said it shot down a Haftar fighter jet south of the capital Tripoli on Sunday. Haftar’s forces confirmed the loss of a MiG-23 but attributed it to a technical failure.

Egypt has in the past urged all parties in Libya to exercise restraint and stop escalation. It has close ties with Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls the east and swept through the mainly desert south this year before moving on to Tripoli.

The Libyan commander has modelled his political style of authoritarian leadership after El-Sisi, himself an army general turned president.

After Sunday’s talks the Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed deep concern about the fighting. It said Egypt supported UN efforts for a political solution as the only option to preserve Libya’s safety and territorial integrity, and protect its people.

A statement from El-Sisi’s office did not mention Haftar’s offensive directly but “confirmed Egypt’s support for efforts to combat terrorism and extremist groups and militias in order to achieve security and stability for the Libyan citizen.”

Dr. Ziad Aql, Libyan affairs expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Arab News Haftar’s ultimate goal was to become the leading force in Libya. “This can happen in a number of different ways, whether it be through elections, a negotiated solution that puts him at the head of a Libyan army free from civilian control, or through military victory,” he said.

“Egypt wants a diplomatic solution to avoid more bloodshed among the Arab people. Egypt supports a military solution only in confrontations against terrorism.”

Leading analyst Anas Al-Qassas said Sunday’s meeting was significant. “It could involve El-Sisi urging Haftar to stop the military campaign,” he said. “He may have brought a message from America, perhaps other things, but the situation is certainly inflamed and could lead to an explosion in Libya.”

Haftar’s campaign has disrupted efforts by the UN to bring rival eastern and western administrations to the negotiating table to plan an election and end the turmoil. 

“Our position will not change,” UN envoy Ghassan Salame said. “You’ve learned and tasted war. No matter how obstinate one becomes, there is no solution except a political one.”

Haftar, who was exiled in the United States for two decades, returned to Libya in 2011 when the revolution erupted, commanding forces that eventually toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

The oil-rich north African country has been in turmoil ever since with successive weak governments in place and several Islamist militias battling for territorial control.


US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

Updated 34 sec ago

US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

  • Donald Trump will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war
  • The US response could involve military, political and economic actions
WASHINGTON: The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.
Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”
The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.
“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.
Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”
US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”
Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.
A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.
US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.
Instead, Trump opted to have US military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to US officials.