Washington claims Egypt, UAE behind bombing raids in Libya

Ayat Al-Tawy , Wednesday 27 Aug 2014

US State Department, Pentagon say Egyptian and Emirati governments responsible for bombing Islamist-allied militia targets in Libya, despite denial from Cairo

Jen Psaki
Snapshot of US Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki speaking to a Daily Press Briefing at the US Department of State in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 2014 (Photo: US Department of State)

The US on Tuesday said it believes that the governments of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have carried out airstrikes against Islamist militia targets in Libya, something Cairo has repeatedly dismissed, with the Gulf state remaining largely silent.

"We understand there were airstrikes undertaken in recent days by the UAE and Egypt" in Libya, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular press briefing.

In a joint statement on Monday, the United States, Germany, Italy, France and the UK urged a democratic transition in Libya and cautioned against "interference" in the oil-rich country, saying it would "exacerbate current divisions and undermine Libya’s democratic transition." The statement did not point out the airstrikes.

"Obviously that's part of our concern here, given the fact that Libya is in a very fragile place," Psaki told reporters, declining to give details if both countries had notified Washington beforehand about the raids or even confirmed their involvement.

The Pentagon has also said the two Mideast countries were responsible for the recent series of bombing raids in Libya's capital, Tripoli.

"We do believe there were airstrikes undertaken in recent days by the UAE and Egypt inside Libya," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference, declining to give details.

The North African country has been rocked by the worst violence since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. Rival militia fighting has largely destroyed Tripoli international airport, prompted Western nations to pull their diplomats out, closed off most international flights, and sent hundreds of Libyan families and foreign workers fleeing abroad.

The role of Egypt and the UAE in the raids against Islamist-linked militia positions in Tripoli was first reported by The New York Times and Islamist militias in Libya.

The first airstrikes occurred a week ago, targeting positions in Tripoli held by the militias, including a small weapons depot, and killing six people, according to the Times.

A second set of airstrikes hit rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse in the southern part of Tripoli early on Saturday, the newspaper said.

The bombing runs appeared to have attempted to hamper the seizure of the Tripoli airport, but militia forces eventually reigned and captured it. 

Pentagon spokesman Kirby said it was unclear who undertook the first raid, saying Washington had no role in it. The US nonetheless could  "ascertain," based on information it had gathered, that the second strike was conducted by Egypt and the UAE, he added.

But the Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied responsibility while the UAE gave no direct comment on the accusations.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Tuesday refuted reports that Emirati warplanes secretly bombed militia positions in Libya using bases in Egypt. He said: "We have no direct connection to any of the military operations on the ground in Libya."

Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had earlier this week quashed reports of a military action in Tripoli, saying during a recent meeting with local newspaper editors that there were no Egyptian troops outside the borders.

In the UAE, Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash criticised earlier this week charges of his country's involvement in the bombing raids.

He said via Twitter that attempts to implicate the UAE in Libyan affairs were meant to "escape from facing the results of elections and legitimacy," in reference to June polls in which a new parliament was installed in place of an Islamist General National Congress transitional body.

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