Tensions rose anew in Libya’s civil war over the weekend, with the country’s main U.N. office dismissing rebel commander Khalifa Haftar’s claim that a government-controlled airport recently bombed by his forces housed Turkish military equipment.
Mr. Haftar, whose command of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army has tacit backing from the Trump administration, ordered airstrikes against Zuwara airport in western Libya on Thursday in the latest escalation of violence between the country’s warring factions.
While the rebel commander said the strikes targeted Turkish drones and ammunition held by the U.N.-backed government that controls the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the United Nations Support Mission (UNSMIL) in Libya pushed back in a statement.
“After reviewing the airport’s facilities and all the adjacent buildings, the assessment mission was able to confirm that neither military assets nor military infrastructure were observed at Zuwara Airport,” the UNSMIL said in statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
The dispute comes as the fighting in Libya presents a widening foreign policy challenge for the Trump administration, which has spent the past two years trying to avoid getting sucked into the vortex, apparently hoping Mr. Haftar — a former Libyan army colonel with alleged CIA ties — would topple the weak, internationally recognized government in Tripoli that some analysts claim is protected by radical militias.
A top leader from the Tripoli government disputed that claim in an interview last week with The Washington Times, asserting that the Trump administration is wrongly aligned behind Mr. Haftar and should be doing more to exert American power and diplomatic influence toward ending the country’s brutal and destabilizing civil war.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Omar Maiteeq said in an interview that only the U.S. has the power to pressure the oil-rich African nation’s warring factions and their divided foreign backers to the bargaining table.
Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are widely seen to be backing Mr. Haftar, while other powers, led by Turkey and Qatar, are backing the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
The Trump administration has shown signs that it may be considering a forceful line to end the fighting. In mid-July, U.S. officials signed a little-reported joint statement with France, Britain, Egypt, Italy and the United Arab Emirates backing an immediate cease-fire.
The Libyan crisis could have major implications for global oil markets. The country has some of the world’s biggest proven reserves, but production has plummeted since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011. Outside powers have been seeking friends and influence inside Libya ever since.
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