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article imageOp-Ed: Foreign special forces support both sides in Libya

By Ken Hanly     Jul 10, 2016 in Politics
Benghazi - Air traffic recordings recently revealed show that UK, French, and U.S. forces are coordinating air strikes in support of Khalifa Haftar's Operation Dignity against IS and other Islamists in Benghazi.
There have been numerous reports of foreign special forces operations in Libya before this, but the tapes give confirmation of them. The Middle East Eye (MEE) received the leaked tapes, which gives support to earlier reports that there was an international operations center in support of Haftar. The recordings came from Benina air base, considered to be Haftar's most important military facility. The article suggests the leaks could be damaging to international parties who support the UN-brokered Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) since Haftar refuses to support the GNA or its armed forces. As the article mentions, Haftar was previously threatened with sanctions by the EU for undermining the GNA. They never happened and western forces are actually aiding him.
The article notes that some of the targeting was not against the Islamic State or even of groups aligned with IS. Haftar is even targeting the Derna Shura Council of Jihadists who were instrumental in driving the Islamic State out of Derna. He is still attacking it causing civilian casualties. Haftar has been a key figure preventing the HoR from voting confidence in the GNA. As analyst Mattia Toaldo told MEE: “Support by Western special forces, particularly French, to General Haftar has made it more difficult to reach a compromise with him because he thinks he has important external backing and therefore does not need to compromise with the unity government." Toaldo notes Haftar considers any of his rivals even loosely connected to political Islam as terrorists. President el-Sisi of Egypt takes the same tack; it was Gadaffi's narrative as well.
There are numerous reports that since launching Operation Dignity in May 2014, he has had support from Egypt, and the UAE. However, statements from Egypt and the UAE have explicitly stated their support for Haftar even though also claiming to support the GNA. Haftar has gone to Moscow to obtain support as well. Al Jazeera also has an article on the leaked tapes. The Libyan Gazette also has an article that goes into some detail of Haftar's connections with the CIA.
What all the articles tend to ignore is that foreign special forces also operate in support of the offensive against the Islamic State (IS), which has ended up with the IS surrounded in Sirte. Several sources report the actions including one that suggests French and even Italian troops may be involved and another that indicates the U.S. and UK are involved. In fact the BAM (Solid Structure) forces only seem to have had help from a few U.S. and UK special forces and no one else.
There are many reasons why international special forces support rival military forces. One reason may be to hedge their bets, as they are not sure which side will dominate. A second reason is to develop positive relations with militia from both camps. If there is unity this will be quite useful, but even if there is no unity, the western powers will have intelligence on the strength and capabilities of the two sides.
The West needs to foster relationships with Haftar. since Haftar has already forged close relationships with Egypt the UAE, and Jordan and lately has been courted by Russia. The U.S. and UK will try to use their own forces to try and influence Haftar to move in a direction that they want. The conflict between Haftar and the UN-backed GNA could easily develop into a proxy combat between some Arab countries and Russia against countries such as the UK , US and France. By helping Haftar, a number of western countries hope that they can influence him to accept the GNA. Russia and the Arab countries already give lip service to supporting the GNA so perhaps some compromise can be worked out. The west could also defend supporting both sides in that the GNA forces are fighting the Islamic State in Sirte and Haftar is fighting them in Benghazi but along with others as well. It could be seen as supporting a war against the IS and terrorism.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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