Hafter says US Sirte air strikes illegal, belittles BM battle in Sirte

By Libya Herald reporters.

Serraj and Hafter pose for the camera in Marj in January (Photo: Libyan Army)

Serraj and Hafter pose awkwardly for the cameras in Marj in January (Photo: Libyan Army)

Tunis, 6 September 2016:

In a combative interview Khalifa Hafter has appeared to scotch French and Italian efforts to reconcile him with Presidency Council head Faiez Serraj and called US air attacks on Sirte illegal.

The House of Representatives-appointed commander-in-chief of the armed forces told the Russian news agency Sputnik that in its four years, UNSMIL had achieved nothing and bore prime responsibility for the current political impasse.

Hafter said that since the Government of National Accord had not yet been legitimised [by the HoR] it had no right to request US airstrikes against IS in Sirte. These were a violation of Libyan sovereignty. He added that, despite the backing of the international community with the exception of Russia, they were illegal. Russia had insisted that the US attacks required the prior approval of the UN Security Council.

Hafter who is apparently backed by the majority of the HoR and Serraj are at odds over the ultimate control of the armed forces. Under Article 8 of the Libyan Political Agreement that control moves from parliament to the Presidency Council. In a clear snipe at Hafter, Serraj said yesterday that the command of the armed forces could not rest on a single personality.

Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni and his French opposite number Jean-Marc Ayrault last week sought to broker a reconciliation between Hafter and Serraj, an initiative which is also backed by the Americans.

In his Sputnik interview however Hafter was seemingly having none of this, though it is unclear if he spoke to the Russian journalist before the Franco-Italian proposal surfaced.  He was reported as saying that he could not work with Misratan militias, the mainstay of the PC, because they were unreliable.

Hafter said that he had been ready to liberate Sirte but that the Misratans had acted without coordinating their attack with the army He also described the Bunyan Marsous battles with IS in Sirte as a “drop in the bucket” when compared with the struggle that his troops had had with terrorists in Benghazi. He nevertheless paid tribute to the courage of BM forces, regretted their loses and wished them well in the final liberation of Sirte from the terrorists.

He told the Russian interviewer that Egypt and Chad were the main backers of the Libyan army providing him with military “ and other forms of support” at a time when other countries were holding back.

He also claimed that he was receiving analysis and special forces military training from “foreign” experts. Since France admitted the loss of three soldiers in a July helicopter crash, believed to be at Magrun, French troops are known to have been operating out of a small base at Benghazi’s Benina air base. There is also thought to be a small British observer presence but in July there were diplomatic reports that some Russian military personnel had recently arrived in the city.

This article has been updated.

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