Egypt offers military training to Libya, citing ISIL threat

The offer was the latest sign of intervention by competing Arab powers in Libya - a haven for Islamist militants and close to becoming a failed state.

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CAIRO // Egypt has offered to train pro-government forces battling rival armed groups in Libya, stepping up efforts to eradicate what it says is a threat to its own stability from the anarchy engulfing its neighbour.

The offer was the latest sign of intervention by competing Arab powers in Libya - a haven for Islamist militants and close to becoming a failed state - while Western governments are preoccupied with Iraq and Syria.

Egypt is trying to reassert its regional authority while also winning back the US military aid suspended after Cairo’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian military officials and representatives of pro-government Libyan forces have met several times over the past two months in Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Marsa Matrouh, Egyptian officials said.

“Intelligence and training” assistance were on the table, an Egyptian official said.

The spokesman of the Libyan general chief of staff, Ahmad Buzeyad Al Missmari, also confirmed Egypt had offered training for troops.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has called for decisive action against militants based in Libya, who Egypt says sneak across the border to help Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis militants attack Egyptian security forces in its Sinai desert.

Egyptian security officials have said Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis – the country’s most dangerous militant group – has contacts with ISIL which is now being targeted by US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

Mr El Sisi has publically backed but not joined the coalition airstrikes, which the UAE is a part of. He said last month that any global coalition against ISIL should tackle an array of extremist groups, making clear his main concern lay closer to home.

As ISIL’s influence spreads among the North Africa-based Islamist militant groups which send fighters to Syria and Iraq, Algeria too has plans to train Libyan forces.

But deeper involvement by Egypt brings onboard one of the biggest armies in the Middle East.

Libya has been torn apart by the worst violence since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The government and elected parliament have relocated to Tobruk in the far east since losing control of the capital, Tripoli, where a rival administration has been created by mainly Islamist-aligned forces from the western city of Misurata.At the United Nations on Saturday, Libya asked the world for weapons to help restore security and rebuild its institutions so it does not have to “face terrorism alone”.

An Egyptian national security official said the country would not give arms. “Weapons in Libya are like rice,” he said, suggesting they were already abundant.

Officials say Cairo has no intention of intervening directly in the conflict.

* Reuters