Pentagon: Egypt, UAE Attacking Islamists in Libya Differs From US Bombing ISIS in Iraq

Patrick Goodenough | August 26, 2014 | 8:45pm EDT
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Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, right meets with Libyan parliamentary speaker Ageila Saleh Eissa in Cairo on Aug. 26, 2014. Amid fears by Libya's neighbors that it is sliding deeper into turmoil, the U.S. says Egypt and the UAE carried out airstrikes against Islamists there. (AP Photo/MENA)

( – The United States does not support Egyptian and Emirati airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya because the U.S. believes the crisis in Libya must be resolved politically and without outside interference, a Department of Defense spokesman said Tuesday.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrying out airstrikes in Libya was different from U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant forces in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told a briefing, because the U.S. was acting in Iraq, in a “very targeted” manner, at the request of its government.

“This wasn’t some unilateral decision by the United States to strike targets inside Iraq.”

“We discourage other nations from taking a part in Libya’s issues through violence,” Kirby said. “We want the issues solved in Libya to be done peacefully and through good governance and politics and not violence.”

He declined to “get into the specifics of our diplomatic discussions” with Egypt and the UAE over the airstrikes in Libya in recent days.

Libya’s slide into anarchy has alarmed neighboring Egypt and several Gulf states, who have voiced concern that chaos there will help to spread the jihadist threat in the region. An al-Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Shariah, controls most of Benghazi and another Islamist faction, Fajr (“Dawn”), seized the Tripoli airport at the weekend.

Qatar, whose backing for Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood across the region has angered its Gulf neighbors, has funneled support to the Islamists in Libya.

Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are believed to be supporting a former Gaddafi-regime chief of staff, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who early this year declared war on the Islamist militias. The Islamists have accused him of being an “American agent,” although the State Department says the U.S. does not support him.

Asked why the U.S. would not view Egyptian and Emirate involvement in trying to tackle the problem as helpful, Kirby said the U.S. does not want “more violence on top of violence that’s already existing inside Libya. It’s already a tenuous enough security environment as it is.”

A peaceful, stable future for Libya would be in the interests of its people as well as “for that part of the world which has already got issues of security as it does,” he said. “But adding more violence onto it we don’t believe is the answer.”

Kirby was asked what the difference was between Libya and Iraq, where the U.S. is conducting airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) forces.

He said the U.S. was acting in Iraq, in a “very targeted” manner and at the request of its government – “this wasn’t some unilateral decision by the United States to strike targets inside Iraq.”

Would the DoD consider any role as part of any international force in Libya?” a reporter asked.

“I’m not aware of any such consideration.”

He was not aware of any discussions between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and officials in Egypt or the UAE in recent days.

Kirby was also asked about the U.S. military’s relationship with Qatar, given continuing allegations about the Gulf state’s support for militants, including the Islamists in Libya and jihadists in Syria.

He said the military-to-military relationship remains “solid.”

“Putting that aside, obviously we don’t encourage any support by any nation for terrorist groups and extremists, particularly in that part of the world,” he said.

Asked whether the Pentagon was concerned that Qatar was supporting such groups, Kirby replied, “I’ve seen those reports, and if the reports are true absolutely it’s concerning.”

At the State Department briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki also fielded questions about the airstrikes in Libya, with a reporter citing her position that the U.S. would act anywhere – in Syria for example – if it deems there to be a threat emanating there against the U.S.

“If the UAE thinks there is a threat emanating against itself from Libya, why can it not, under the same justification, bomb Libya?” he asked.

“Our concern here is about the fragile state of Libya’s political process,” Psaki replied. “We believe there isn’t a military solution. The political process is what the focus needs to be on, and hence the concern that we have.”

The crisis in Libya has been described as the worst since intervention by the U.S. and other NATO partners helped Libyan rebels to toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Psaki called the political situation in the country “very complicated” but added that “democracy, these processes of reform, take some time.”

She said the U.S. remains committed and engaged, including through U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones and embassy officials even though they have been relocated from Libya, a step she described as “temporary.”

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