US President Donald Trump indicated in a phone call with Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar last week that the U.S. supported an assault on the country’s capital to depose its United Nations-backed government.
An earlier call from White House National Security Adviser John Bolton also left Haftar with the impression of a U.S. green light for an offensive on Tripoli by his forces, known as the Libyan National Army.
The revelation that the U.S. president had tacitly recognized Haftar — addressed as “field marshal” in the statement — as a Libyan leader abruptly undermined the country’s internationally-recognized government led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.
Trump’s conversation with Haftar took place after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with the U.S. president on April 9 and urged him to back Haftar, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Trump also spoke with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a Haftar supporter, the day before the White House issued the statement acknowledging the call with Haftar.
The White House encouragement for Haftar represented a dramatic turn from the public position taken days earlier by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
Pompeo made it clear that the Pentagon opposes the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital.
While U.S. officials initially backed a U.K.-led effort at the UN Security Council that would call on Haftar’s forces to halt the fighting, they abruptly switched tracks and have since stalled efforts to advance a resolution.
Haftar, who has enjoyed the support of Russia, France and Saudi Arabia in addition to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, controls much of Libya’s east and south.
Marshall Haftar launched a campaign to take the capital earlier this month. Sarraj, who is backed by former colonial power Italy and other European countries, has said talks with Haftar cannot begin until his forces are withdrawn to pre-offensive lines.
Haftar has claimed his offensive is intended to combat Islamist terrorism in Libya. The EU called on Haftar to stop his advance on Tripoli in an April 11 statement that did not name him, after France and some other members objected.
Bloomberg / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2019.