Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar has met with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leaders for talks on military cooperation despite UN criticism of the Persian Gulf country’s meddling in Libya’s internal affairs.
According to the UAE’s official WAM news agency, Haftar held talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Saturday on “joint cooperation between the two countries… in combating extremism and terrorist organizations.”
Haftar, the head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), has visited the UAE regularly in recent months.
The latest visit comes days after Haftar’s forces announced the retaking of the second city Benghazi from rivaling militia operating across the troubled region.
The announcement came on Wednesday shortly after LNA was able to break the final pockets of resistance in Libya’s second city and overtake the seafront district of Sabri using heavy artillery fire. Littered with burnt cars and debris from destroyed buildings, Sabri has been reduced into a ghost town following the deadly clashes of the past few weeks.
Haftar does not recognize the authority of Tripoli-based UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), instead backing an alternate government based in the country’s east.
In June, the United Nations Security Council accused the UAE of breaching an arms embargo on Libya by sending attack helicopters, attack aircraft, and armored vehicles to troops commanded by self-styled General Haftar.
According to the report, the UAE provided Haftar’s LNA with helicopters, including a Russian-made Mi-24 Hind gunship, and a single-engine light attack plane.
More than 90 armored personnel carriers and more than 500 other vehicles had also been transferred from the UAE to the LNA in the eastern city of Tobruk in April 2016 with assistance from Saudi Arabia, the report added.
The report also said the Mi-24 Hind was operating alongside the US-produced light attack aircraft AT-802i.
The UN report further said that the air power provided by the UAE by making the mentioned aircraft available to Haftar’s troops had allowed them to advance and capture larger areas of eastern Libya.
It was not clear if and what measures would be taken against the UAE for the breach of the international arms embargo.
The strengthening of Haftar’s forces could complicate efforts by Libya’s neighbors, Algeria and Tunisia, to find a political solution to the Libyan conflict.
Libya has faced a power vacuum since a US-led NATO military intervention resulted in the downfall of its longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has been grappling with chaos and the emergence of numerous militant groups, including Takfiri terrorist group Daesh.
Haftar was an ally of Gaddafi but joined the Libyan revolution against the dictator in 2011.
The country now has two governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other based in the far east, in the city of Tobruk. The government in Tripoli is internationally recognized but both Haftar and the eastern-based parliament refuse to recognize it.