Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the reported discovery of U.S. made weapons at a military base used by former CIA asset and rebel leader, General Khalifa Hafter in Libya. Hafter has been leading a months-long offensive against the U.S. backed government in Tripoli. The weapons, four javelin anti-tank missiles, had markings on them that indicated they were sold to the United Arab Emirates in 2008. The UAE has denied that the weapons were theirs.
“If the United Arab Emirates has indeed transferred these weapons, this would appear to be a serious violation of United States law. Such a transfer would also almost certainly be a violation of the UN arms embargo on Libya,” Menendez wrote, “I also note that this is particularly alarming given that you recently tried to bypass Congressional authorization for these specific weapons to the UAE in May through a dubious “emergency” action to counter a supposed Iranian threat.”
Last month, the Senate approved 22 separate joint resolutions of disapproval authored by Menendez, to block Trump’s “emergency” $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The 22 resolutions still need to pass the house but President Trump will most likely veto the effort.
Menendez mentioned a CNN expose from last February that showed the UAE, Saudi Arabia and their allies have been arming al-Qaeda linked fighters in Yemen. He ended the letter demanding the state department begin an investigation into the weapons found in Libya.
Although the U.S. is backing the UN recognized Government of National Accord, which is based in Tripoli, back in April, Trump spoke with Hafter on the phone and praised his role in fighting terrorism and securing oil fields. Trump’s phone call with Hafter was just after he began his offensive on Tripoli.
The official statement put out by the White House about the conversation said that Trump, “recognized Field Marshal Hafter’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”
Encouraged by Trumps’s phone call, Haftar has hired a lobbying firm in Washington to arrange a meeting between the two leaders.
Hafter, a U.S. citizen and former CIA asset, was captured in the 1987 while fighting for former Moammar Gadhafi in neighboring Chad. He then gained his freedom by joining anti-Gadhafi efforts in Chad with the CIA-backed National Front for the Salvation of Libya. Hafter’s anti-Gadhafi efforts did not last long and after a Libyan-backed coup in Chad, he fled to the U.S., where he took up residence in Northern Virginia, only a 20-minute drive from CIA headquarters.
The insurgent leader returned to Libya in 2011 during the civil war, but returned to the U.S. shortly after to “enjoy his grandchildren,” he told the New Yorker in 2015. In the same interview, he explained what motivated him to return to Libya again in 2014, “Everyone told me the same thing, ‘We are looking for a savior. Where are you?’ I told them, ‘If I have the approval of the people, I will act.’ After popular demonstrations took place all over Libya asking me to step in, I knew I was being pushed toward death, but I willingly accepted.”
Hafter’s ties with the U.S. and his conversation with Trump make the discovery of these weapons all the more suspicious.