By Vanessa Tomassini.
Milan, 30 September 2017:
Khalifa Hafter has said that his Libyan National Army (LNA) can help stop the flow of illegal migrants from across the southern borders heading north to travel on to Europe, but needs military equipment from Europe to do the job.
“For the control of borders in South, I can provide manpower, but Europeans must send aid: drones, helicopters, night vision goggles, vehicles”, he said in an interview with Italian national daily Corriere della Sera while in Rome earlier this week for talks with the Italian government.
He indicated that the visit had opened a new chapter in relations with Italy. The two sides, he said, had clarified their positions to the satisfaction of the other.
“It was necessary and was very useful to smooth out many mutual misunderstandings,” he explained, noting that he had had talks with Italian defence minister Roberta Pinotti, interior minister Marco Minniti, chief of defence General Claudio Graziano and the head of intelligence. The meetings had been about more than making decision, he said; the two sides had explained their positions and their views.
He also revealed that he and the Italians had talked about what he said was a common commitment to the fight terrorism.
In relation to both this and stopping the migrant flows, there had to be an end to the arms embargo, he insisted. With an apparent eye on the fact that Italy is currently a member of the UN Security Council, he explained that while he appreciated that Italy had to uphold the embargo, it had to be revoked.
“For a long time I’ve asked that this embargo should be annulled in regard to our national army.” All European countries interested in stopping migrants should support its withdrawal, he said.
Hafter also noted that defence minister Pinotti had already agreed training programmes for Libyan soldiers in Italy, expecting this to be widened and extended.
As to Libya’s political crisis, he said that a political solution would be the best answer but military solutions could not be ruled out.
“It’s obvious that we prefer the political routes, but when these don’t work there must be other solutions,” he said, noting that terrorists in Libya had been defeated “not through diplomatic channels but with weapons”.
In the interview he was also particularly critical of moves by Italy and others to use militias that had been involved in smuggling to now stop it.
“Tomorrow they will fight among themselves for a share of the spoils; it will be a never-ending blackmail,” he said, referring to the current fighting in Sabratha between the Anti-IS Operations Rooam and the Amu Brigade which had been involved in smuggling and many of whose members had been incorporated into the Presidency Council’s army as part of the 48th Battalion.
Italy has denied reports that it paid it €5 million to act as a local anti-smuggling police force.