Supporters of both the internationally recognised but floundering Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army have continued the race for international diplomatic support.
Haftar reportedly travelled to Moscow in early June to meet senior officials. Reports on pro-Haftar media outlets that he had met President Vladimir Putin during this visit were denied by the Russians. Publically, Moscow has instead been trying to take a more neutral stance.
There were also widespread rumours that Haftar will travel to the US to meet President Donald Trump in person in mid-June. These rumours are, however, probably unfounded because it would currently be exceedingly risky for Haftar to visit the US.
Powerful members of the US Congress are increasingly interested in investigating Haftar as a US citizen for his involvement in war crimes. Even landing at an airport in the US could, for example, open Haftar to questions from the FBI.
Last week leaders of international human rights organisations — including Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch — circulated videos of Haftar ordering his forces not to take prisoners. Roth hinted that such videos could be used to prosecute Haftar under the US War Crimes Act. On 7 June a White House source also denied that the meeting with Haftar had been planned.
The false rumours of Haftar’s meetings with Putin and Trump may be a sign of his desperation for more international support as his most valuable patrons become mired by their relationships with him after his Tripoli campaign. For example, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed — the UAE’s Crown Prince and de-facto leader — was profiled in a blistering article in the New York Times that accused him of sowing discord throughout the region, including in Libya and Sudan, because of his obsession with destroying the Muslim Brotherhood.
As Haftar’s hugely damaging Tripoli campaign continues to destroy the capital’s southern suburbs, the reputational risks of supporting him will increase for both foreign leaders and businesses.
This excerpt is taken from Libya Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on the region. Click here if you would like to receive a free sample.