Leaked emails purportedly between UAE ambassador to the US Yousef Otaiba and then-US national security adviser Susan Rice may indicate that the United States knew about illegal arms shipments to rebels in Libya.
“MBZ asked me to inform you that we will be sending ‘equipment’ to our friends in the western part of Libya in the next 2-3 days,” wrote Otaiba, using an acronym for Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
“They will arrive in a UAE cargo aircraft and will be escorted by a UAE military contingent, just to insure safe passage. He just wanted me to give you a heads up this will be happening so that no one is caught off guard,” he added.
Rice responded with “Roger. Thanks”.
The emails, which were publicly leaked by an unidentified group overnight on Wednesday, raise questions about US knowledge of possible UAE influence in Libya’s civil war.
MEE emailed the UAE embassy in Washington for comment, but received no immediate reply. MEE also emailed Susan Rice for comment at American University in Washington DC, and received no reply.
While the words “weapons” or “arms” were not specifically mentioned, the 2014 correspondence roughly tracks a UN Security Council report leaked to MEE in June saying the UAE had illegally shipped weapons to rebels loyal to military leader Khalifa Haftar.
The UN has kept Libya under an arms embargo since the 2011 uprising that drove then leader Muammar Gaddafi from power, but the Security Council report details a “general increase in direct foreign support to armed factions in Libya”.
The panel that compiled the report found evidence of helicopters, including a Russia-made Mi-24 Hind gunship, and a single-engine light attack plane in eastern Libya after they were transferred from the UAE to the Libyan National Army (LNA).
The report also documents a delivery of more than 90 armoured personnel carriers and more than 500 other vehicles to the LNA in the eastern city of Tobruk in April 2016. The vehicles came from the UAE via a cargo ship from Saudi Arabia.
The heavily armed Mi-24 Hind helicopter was one of four models exported by Belarus to the UAE in 2014. The UN panel of experts found the aircraft is now in eastern Libya, operated by the LNA.
It is operating alongside a US-produced light attack aircraft. The AT-802i was originally developed to fight fires, but has been converted into a counter-insurgency and strike aircraft. The manufacturer, Texas-based Air Tractor, has exported 48 aircraft to the UAE and at least one of these has found its way to Libya, the report found.
There have been other reports of combat aircraft being operated by Haftar’s forces, but the UN version is the first authoritative confirmation of their origin.