Why is the world reluctant to condemn Khalifa Haftar, Libya's military commander?

Body bags of victims from the Tajoura migrant centre strike
Body bags of victims from the Tajoura migrant centre strike
By Rachael Kennedy
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Euronews takes a look at why the UN Security Council failed to condemn a recent attack on a migrant centre in northwest Libya, and the background players supporting the country's national army chief.


A UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting failed to agree on a statement condemning deadly airstrikes on a migrant detention centre in northwestern Libya on Tuesday night.

The strikes, which killed dozens of people, have been blamed on military commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

On Wednesday, AFP reported that a draft statement sent to UNSC members for approval, which condemned the attack and called for a ceasefire, was blocked by the US.

Meanwhile, the UN's secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the bombing was "outrageous", with his spokesperson later confirming that he condemned "this horrendous incident in the strongest terms".

The UN's support mission in Libya also condemned the attack, going further to say it "could constitute a war crime".

So why is there an apparent reluctance from the US to condemn such an attack, and who are the other important background players in Libya's most recent conflict?

East versus west

Libya has an internationally-recognised government — the government of national accord (GNA) — that was put together by the UN in 2016 in a bid to stabilise the country after the bloody overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The new government, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, operates out of the capital Tripoli in the country's northwest.

But the oil-rich east and parts of the south are controlled by Haftar in a parallel government backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Haftar has attracted this support due to his aggression against Islamist groups in Libya, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Airstrikes reduced the migrant centre to rubble

In April, the 75-year-old ordered his forces toward Tripoli in a bid to topple the GNA and take control of the country.

The subsequent offensive has led to the deaths of hundreds of people and has brought the nation back to the brink of civil war.

But this has also led to a deepening conflict of interests for states that officially back the UN-instated government, who in the background have built ties with Haftar for a number of reasons, including his stance on Islamists, oil power and a means to maintain strong relations elsewhere in the region.

United States

Early into his presidency, Donald Trump insisted he did "not see a role in Libya" outside that of counterterrorism.

The launch of Haftar's offensive this April also saw the US president's top staff encourage a halt to violence and a return to political talks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US opposed the conflict that was "endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans".

Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan backed these comments, saying: "[A] military solution is not what Libya needs."

But Trump appeared to take matters into his own hands in a later phone call with Haftar — who has US citizenship — in which he praised his "significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources," a White House statement said.


Officials later said the US president had further endorsed the ongoing assault on Tripoli, Bloomberg reported.

This turnaround is said to have caught Trump's advisors off guard and was also noted that it came just two weeks after his phone call with Haftar's main allies — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed.


France has been accused of playing both sides of the conflict by al-Sarraj's government — the country's official line is that it supports the UN-backed government, yet it has also blocked a statement from the EU calling for an end to Haftar's April offensive.

There are multiple reasons for France to maintain cordial ties with Haftar, including the country's oil assets in Libya's east, and for the LNA's aid in the fight against Islamists.

In February, the LNA took part in an operation to squash a rebel group from neighbouring Chad, who had temporarily settled in Libya and planned to overthrow the French-backed Chad leader Idriss Deby.


The LNA sent the rebel group fleeing across the border back into Chad, where French fighter jets bombed them.

Many experts also believe that France's relationship with Haftar, in turn, bolsters its relations with his allies — including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Emmanuel Macron has been accused of playing both sides of the conflict


Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov maintains that "Moscow is not taking part" in the renewed fighting "in any way" — but Russia also refused to approve a statement calling on Haftar to halt his offensive in early April.

A later statement from Russia urged restraint, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling for participants to “stop any offensive military action and embrace the negotiating table” and “prevent an escalation”.

Haftar has also been hosted by Russia several times, once receiving a tour of the renowned Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in 2017.


But this is all part of "a very delicate diplomatic situation for Russia," Viacheslav Matuzov, a former diplomat, told Deutsche Welle.

He explained the importance of Russia's allies in the Middle East on both sides of the conflict — Turkey and Algeria support the GNA, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia support the LNA.

Both Algeria and Egypt have been crucial for large weapon imports from Russia, while Turkey is important for its role in the Syrian war, and Saudi Arabia for oil.

Some experts also note that Russia wants to extend its influence in the region and keep at bay any chances of a resurrection of an Islamic State-type insurgency.

“If Haftar fails to win control of Tripoli and his hold on much of Libya’s natural wealth weakens as a consequence, the Kremlin will be actively seeking others to empower so it can get back into the country’s oil and gas sector and seek opportunities for a naval presence," Bloomberg's Leonid Bershidsky has said.

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