US officials push Libya’s Haftar for ceasefire in first meeting

While Washington has had contact with the Libyan National Army, it is the first senior delegation to meet the force’s representatives

FILE PHOTO: A Libyan man carries a picture of Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration to support Libyan National Army offensive against Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File Photo
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A senior American delegation met with the head of the Libyan National Army on Sunday to urge a ceasefire and political settlement to the conflict, in the first publicised meeting of its kind.

The Trump administration said senior US officials “met with General Khalifa Haftar on November 24 [Sunday] to discuss steps to achieve a suspension of hostilities and a political resolution to the Libyan conflict.”

The State Department also tweeted a photo of the meeting.

Libya is divided between two parallel administrations based in the capital under the Government of National Accord and another based in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The internationally recognised Government of National Accord is backed by a plethora of armed groups formed in and after the 2011 uprising against longtime dictator Col Muammar Qaddafi but has no formal military of its own. Several of the powerful militias are listed internationally as terrorist organisations.

After taking much of the south, Gen Haftar launched an offensive to capture the Libyan capital of Tripoli in April vowing to end the rule of militias that include hardline groups linked to Al Qaeda and others.

The US statement mentioned the need for concrete efforts “to address militias and extremist elements, and the distribution of resources so they benefit all Libyans.”

The LNA push effectively froze the UN-backed peace process that sought to reconcile the two administrations under a single body and pave the way for elections.

This was despite Gen Haftar and GNA head Fayez Al Sarraj meeting in the months before the offensive and discussing a roadmap through the talks. Gen Haftar says he is still open to talks but Mr Al Sarraj has said the option is off the table.

Internationally, calls for a ceasefire and a return to dialogue have been increasing but both sides are still backed by a verity of actors.

The US statement said the Trump administration hopes that recent talks among different Libyan factions would “establish a common basis for progress… in the context of moving toward a ceasefire.”

But there are also reports of increased involvement of international players on the ground, including Russia who backs Gen Haftar and Qatar and Turkey who back the GNA and its militias.

The GNA claims that Russian mercenaries have recently been deployed to back the LNA despite Gen Haftar’s force denying receiving international backing.

“The officials underscored the United States’ full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya and expressed serious concern over Russia’s exploitation of the conflict at the expense of the Libyan people,” the statement read.

The US did not reveal the location of the meeting.

White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs Victoria Coates and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland were present for Sunday’s talks alongside several other political and military officials.

On Monday, the LNA General Command said that it had mistakenly shot down a US drone last week. The LNA said they believed it was a Turkish made drone used by the Tripoli administration’s militias.

The US said last Thursday that it had lost a drone over Libya while assessing the security situation and monitoring extremist activity but gave no other details.

An LNA official said that the force had apologized and “agreed with the Americans to coordinate their operations over Tripoli and its surrounding areas to avoid similar incidents in the future."

It is not clear if the agreement came at the Sunday meeting or in separate talks.

It is not the first contact between the US and the LNA. Around the start of the Tripoli offensive, President Donald Trump called to “recognise… [Gen] Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya's transition to a stable, democratic political system," the White House said at the time.

But, earlier this month, Washington urged the LNA to end its offensive on Tripoli.

It said this “will facilitate further US-Libya cooperation to prevent undue foreign interference, reinforce legitimate state authority, and address the issues underlying the conflict.”