Home inContext U.S. Surprised at Egyptian and UAE Airstrikes in Libya

U.S. Surprised at Egyptian and UAE Airstrikes in Libya

Michael Johnson

Unnamed American officials voiced surprise on Monday over a series of airstrikes commenced by U.S. allies last week in Tripoli, according to a report by the BBC. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched the attacks on pro-Islamist militias that had recently gained ground in Libya’s capital.

During a briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki denounced Egypt and the UAE’s intervention, saying it heightened regional tensions and would further exacerbate Libya’s already divisive civil war. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told state media that “no Egyptian aircraft participated in military action inside Libya” and the UAE refused to comment on raids that killed 13 Islamist fighters.

A damaged aircraft after shelling at Tripoli International Airport August 24, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

But Sisi’s carefully worded statement suggests that the UAE could have launched the attack from Egyptian territory. With one of the most capable air forces in the Arab world, largely thanks to U.S. training and military aid, the Emirates likely provided the pilots and planes for the operation.

Even after striking the Islamist militias, groups such as the Dawn of Libya continued to advance on the ground. Fighters captured Tripoli’s main airport, a site that had been under siege for over a month. However, much of the airport was destroyed in the fighting, including many large commercial aircraft left on the tarmac.

Since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011, rivalry between different armed groups has undermined a weak central government. Militia fighters have long outgunned government troops tasked to protect the country. Since losing their power in Parliament following elections in June, Islamists have taken their fighting to the already lawless streets of Tripoli and Libya’s second city of Benghazi. Thousands of foreigners and diplomats have left the country over the past few months as the latest fighting intensified.