U.S. Missiles Found in Libyan Rebel Camp Were First Sold to France

General Hifter, the aspiring strongman based in eastern Libya whose forces were storing the Javelins, relied on military assistance from the United Arab Emirates, France and Egypt in his fight to capture the eastern city of Benghazi, his current headquarters.

During the grinding battle for control of Benghazi between 2014 and 2017, the Emiratis supplied attack helicopters, warplanes and drones to General Hifter’s air force. Egypt carried out airstrikes against the eastern city of Derna in support of his forces.

Then in July 2016, the then-president of France, François Hollande, said that three members of the French Special Forces had been killed in a helicopter crash in Libya during “dangerous intelligence operations.” Days earlier, an Islamist militia fighting against General Hifter said it had shot down a helicopter 45 miles south of Benghazi.

A year later, France told a panel of United Nations investigators that its military activities in Libya conformed to international law.

Critics, though, said it was another example of how the United Nations arms embargo, in place in since 2011, has been widely flouted by Middle Eastern and European powers seeking to influence the outcome of the war.

United Nations inspectors have documented numerous breaches of the embargo by the United Arab Emirates, which has stationed warplanes on an air base that it runs in eastern Libya, in territory controlled by General Hifter. More recently, experts say, the Emirates has stepped up its military assistance to General Hifter as he presses his assault on Tripoli, including armed Chinese drones and a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system.

On the other side of the war, Qatar and Turkey have funded Islamist factions in Libya since 2011. American officials say the Qataris have scaled back their involvement in recent years, but Turkey has ramped up its own engagement.

As the fight for Tripoli intensified, the Turks sent armed drones and armored vehicles to the forces of the Government of National Unity, which is backed by the United Nations and was defending the capital against attack by General Hifter.


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