DOHA: Twice in the past eight days, Egypt and the UAE have secretly teamed up to launch air strikes against militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, The New York Times reported, quoting four senior American officials.
Washington was caught by surprise by the act of Egypt and the Emirates. Both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington or seeking its consent, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines, the US daily reported.
Egyptian officials explicitly denied the operation to American diplomats.
The UAE has not commented directly on the strikes. But on Monday, an Emirati state newspaper printed a statement from Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, calling questions about an Emirati role “an escape” from the recent election he suggested showed a desire for “stability” and a rejection of the Islamists.
Allegations about the UAE role, he said, came from a group who “wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives,” and “the people discovered its lies and failures”.
The report said: Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt one year ago, the new Egyptian government, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have formed a bloc exerting influence on countries around the region to roll back what they see as a competing threat from Islamists. Arrayed against them are the Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood that sprang forward amid Arab Spring revolts.
Several officials said US diplomats were fuming about the air strikes, believing they could further inflame the Libyan conflict at a time when the United Nations and Western powers are seeking a peaceful resolution. “We don’t see this as constructive at all,” the NYT quoted one senior American official as saying.
The strikes have also proved counter-productive so far: The Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli successfully seized its airport the night after they were hit with the second round of strikes.
US officials said Egypt had provided bases for the launch of strikes. President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and other officials have issued vigorous but carefully worded public statements, denying any direct involvement inside Libya by Egyptian forces. the peninsula
The officials said that the UAE — believed to have one of the most effective air forces in the region, thanks to American aid and training — provided the pilots, warplanes, and aerial refuelling planes necessary for the fighters to bomb Tripoli out of bases in Egypt.
The first strikes occurred before dawn a week ago, hitting positions in Tripoli controlled by Islamist-friendly militias, blowing up a small weapons depot and killing six people.
A second set of air strikes took place south of the city early on Saturday, hitting rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse, all controlled by Islamist-allied militia.
Responsibility for the air strikes was initially a mystery. After the first set, several American officials initially said that signs pointed to the United Arab Emirates, but some said that the evidence was not conclusive.
A former Gaddafi official now consulting with the Emirates, meanwhile, argued on condition of anonymity that the strikes must be the work of the United States, contending that Western powers wanted to ward off the danger posed by Libya’s Islamists.
On Monday, however, American officials said that the second set of strikes had provided enough evidence to conclude that the Emirates was responsible, even providing the refuelling planes necessary for fighters to reach Tripoli from Egypt.