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Libya crisis: US ‘caught off-guard’ by air strikes

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The US was “caught off guard” by air strikes against
Islamist militia in Libya, a senior official has told the
BBC.

The attacks on militia positions around Tripoli airport
were reportedly carried out by the United Arab
Emirates (UAE) from bases in Egypt.

Egypt has denied any involvement and the UAE has
not commented.

A militia alliance recently captured the capital’s
international airport after a battle lasting nearly a
month.

The official told the BBC that the US had not been
consulted about the air strikes and that it was
concerned that US weapons may have been used,
violating agreements under which they were sold.

The unidentified war planes attacked twice in the past
week during a battle for Tripoli’s airport between
Islamist and nationalist militias.

A report in The New York Times on Monday said the
UAE had provided the military aircraft, aerial
refuelling planes and crews while Egypt gave access
to its air bases.

On Monday, the US, France, Germany, Italy and the
UK issued a joint statement denouncing “outside
interference” in Libya which it said “exacerbates
current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic
transition”.

The BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher in Washington says
the air strikes have exposed another battleground in
a regional struggle for power between Arab autocrats
and Islamist movements.

Qatar has provided weapons and money to Islamist
forces in Libya and elsewhere, she says, while Egypt
and the UAE along with Saudi Arabia are trying to roll
back Islamist advances.

Violence in Libya has surged recently between the
rival groups who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in the
2011 uprising.

Libya’s police and army remain weak in comparison
with the militias.

Over the weekend, Islamist-affiliated forces from
Misrata and other cities took over Tripoli airport
from the Zintan militia, which has held it for three
years.

The airport, Libya’s largest, has been closed for more
than a month because of the fighting.

Hundreds of people have died since clashes broke
out in Tripoli in July.

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