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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Not saying whether good or bad, but USA is not at the table anymore: Egypt and UAE strike Islamist militias in Libya

From The Washington Post:

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have carried out a series of airstrikes in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, U.S. officials said Monday, marking an escalation in the chaotic war among Libya’s rival militias that has driven American and other diplomats from the country.

The Obama administration did not know ahead of time about the highly unusual military intervention, although the United States was aware that action by Arab states might come as the crisis in Libya worsened, said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The airstrikes appear tied to fear over the growing muscle of Islamist militias. The region’s monarchies and secular dictatorships are increasingly alarmed about Islamist gains from Libya to Syria and Iraq. And the airstrikes may signal a new willingness by some Arab states to take on a more direct military role in the region’s conflicts.

Various groups in Libya have been battling for control of the main Tripoli airport, and the strikes may have been a failed attempt to keep the strategic facility from falling to extremists.

The United States shuttered its embassy in Tripoli a month ago as militia infighting erupted into gun battles in the streets.

U.S. officials have long been worried about a proxy war in Libya, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE backing more secular militias against Islamist forces supported by Qatar. The United States says Qatar is arming and funding Islamists in Libya.

During the weekend, Islamist militias blamed the airstrikes on Egypt and the UAE. That prompted a denial by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. Egypt did not conduct strikes or other military operations in Libya, the state news agency MENA quoted Sissi as saying. The UAE government declined to comment.

“Libya’s challenges are political, and violence will not resolve them,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “Our focus is on the political process there. We believe outside interference exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition. And that’s why our focus remains on urging all factions to come together to peacefully resolve the current crisis.”

Earlier this year, administration officials suggested to friendly governments in the Middle East that a direct, joint appeal from them for more substantive assistance in confronting regional threats might circumvent legal barriers to U.S. action such as the absence of a United Nations mandate.

The effort was delayed, and then set aside, as Arab governments questioned whether the administration could produce the requisite congressional backing for any joint operations with the U.S. military.

The role of UAE planes in the U.S.-European air attacks that helped drive Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from power in 2011 allowed the Obama administration to characterize that operation as one in which Arab allies were closely involved.

Since then, the administration has pressed governments in the Persian Gulf region to commit to a more public partnership in supporting U.S.-backed rebels and defeating Islamist extremists in Syria’s civil war.

But it is not clear whether the administration’s desire for its Arab partners, particularly in the Persian Gulf, to assist efforts against Islamic State militants in Syria extends to trying to solve what it sees as essentially a political problem in Libya.

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