France said yesterday its missiles had been found at a Libyan base used by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, in an embarrassing admission that raises fresh questions about its role in the conflict.
Confirming a report in the New York Times, a defence ministry statement said the United States-made Javelin missiles discovered in June at a camp south of Tripoli had been purchased by France. But it denied supplying them to Haftar in breach of a United Nations arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the war-torn country had lost track of them after they were judged to be defective.
“Damaged and out-of-use, these weapons were being temporarily stocked in a warehouse ahead of their destruction,” it said. “They were not transferred to local forces.” Jalel Harchaoui, an expert on Libya at the Clingendael Institute, a Netherlands-based think-tank, recalled the deaths of three French forces who were working alongside Haftar’s troops in 2016. The French defence ministry statement “has no credibility,” he told AFP.
The anti-tank missiles, worth $170,000 (150,000 euros) each, were seized when forces loyal to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli overran the pro-Haftar base in Gharyan, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Tripoli.
Three of them were shown to journalists, including AFP reporters, on June 29 alongside Chinese-made shells bearing the markings of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The French ministry statement did not explain how the missiles were lost and the find is likely to boost suspicions that Paris is backing Haftar on the ground.
“These weapons were for the protection of forces undertaking intelligence and counter-terror missions,” the French statement said. Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, an NGO, said the town of Gharyan had in the past housed facilities for obsolete weapons.
But there were unanswered questions about whether French troops were present when the base was overrun, she said. “The French need to clarify in greater detail,” she told AFP. “The open question is whether or not they are actively supporting Haftar’s forces in their offensive on Tripoli.”