By: Abdullah Ben Ibrahim
France is claiming it recognizes Tripoli-based Presidential Council as the legitimate government of Libya, but on the other hand, it backs warlord Khalifa Haftar under the table to topple the UN-recognized Presidential Council, a step described by observers as a play of the two-faced game in the North African country.
Early in April, armed groups of warlord Khalifa Haftar seized the mountain city of Gharyan without a gunshot after the city’s militia leader Adel Da’ab decided to join them.
Haftar’s armed groups, with the help of French and Emirati military experts, set up a military operation room in Gharyan to conquer Tripoli. Shortly after Gharyan seizure, a group of 13 French armed intelligence officers were interceptedby Tunisian authorities at the border with Libya. Tunisian media reports suggested that the French officers may have assisted Haftar’s forces to set up the operation room.
But things didn’t work out as they planned. On June 26, government forces retookGharyan after over three months of seizure, in a big blow to warlord Haftar and his foreign allies.
Presidential Council forces took control of the city in a surprise 7-hour attack and arrested over a hundred local fighters and foreign mercenaries. They also seized the operation room set up by Haftar and his foreign allies, in addition to a number of futuristic weapons, including US-made Javelin missiles.
While accusations for the fire-and-forget missile supply were directed at the UAE, one of the key backers, US officials concluded that the missiles were first sold to France before ending up in the hands of warlord Haftar’s armed groups.
Feeling embarrassed, France admitted that the Javelin missiles found in Gharyan were purchased from the United States, but it claimed that “the missiles were never intended for sale or transfer to any party to the Libya conflict.”
In a statement, it added that the missiles were “damaged and unusable” and were intended for the “self-protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out counter-terrorism operations”.
France’s narrative was deemed inaccurate and full of contradictions by many observers and politicians.
Presidential Council member, Mohammad Amari Zayed said France’s statement on the presence of its missiles in Gharyan is contradictory. From one side the statement claimed the missiles were “damaged and unusable” but on the other side, it claimed the missiles were for self-protection and fighting terrorism.
So how can one fight terrorism with damaged and unusable weapons? Amari argues.
Ahmed Sewehli, a Libyan democracy advocate, thinks France is at war with Libya, accusing it of mass murdering Libyan people with their sophisticated weapons supply to Haftar.
France’s support to Haftar goes back to 2014 during his war on Benghazi. A French military operation room was set up to help Haftar’s forces take control of the city on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
In July 2016, three French special forces soldiers were killedwhen their helicopter was shot down in El Magrun town, about 75 km south of Benghazi, during a military operation to Back Haftar’s forces. Benghazi Defence Brigades claimed responsibility for the shoot-down, but France claimed the helicopter crash was accidental.
France’s link to the fight against ISIS has raised eyebrows. During Al-Bonyan Al-Marsous war on ISIS in Sirte in 2016, a French submarine approached the coast in an attempt to evacuate “important persons” as the war on the terror group was raging.
Speaking to The Libya Observer on condition of anonymity, a high-profile state security officer revealed that Libyan Navy forces had detected a submarine sailing near the coast and sent a request for the call sign. The crew of the submarine identified themselves as US marine forces conducting some operations before vanishing.
Later US Africa Command denied the presence of any US submarines near the coast at the time after a request for clarification sent by the Presidential Council.
The Libyan Navy concluded that the submarine belonged to the French Navy and it was attempting to help some “important persons” flee from Sirte, according to the state security officer.
Some reports claimed that France was trying to evacuate some ISIS leaders who were working for French intelligence.
Communication between Libyan Navy and French Navy impersonating US Marines
The security officer also disclosed that a French intelligence officer visited Watiya airbase in western Libya near the border with Tunisia immediately after the February revolution that overthrew Gaddafi’s regime.
The French officer inspected the airbase with the aim to set up a French presence near the Tunisian border, but their goal was derailed after French requests to visit the airbase again were rejected by the Libyan authorities at the time.
The French might have wanted to facilitate the flow of Tunisian terrorists into Libya, the Libyan state security officer thinks.
Before the battle of Sirte, an ISIS convoy escaped from Benghazi to the central region of Libya without being intercepted by Haftar’s forces. Former spokesperson of Dignity Operation Mohammed Al-Hijazi said in an interview with a local TV station that the ISIS convoy escaped from Benghazi under an air cover from a foreign backer to Haftar, without mentioning it.
But Chief of Sabratha Military Council colonel Taher Al-Gharabli disclosed that the foreign backer was France.
The convoy’s journey ended up in Sirte where so-called IS emirate was declared.