Egypt offers military training to Libya, cites ISIS threat

2014-10-01 14:28

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Cairo - Egypt has offered to train pro-government forces battling rival armed groups in Libya, stepping up efforts to eradicate what it says is a threat to its own stability from the anarchy engulfing its neighbour.

The offer was the latest sign of intervention by competing Arab powers in Libya - a haven for Islamist militants and close to becoming a failed state - while Western governments are preoccupied with Iraq and Syria.

Egypt is trying to reassert its regional authority on its own terms while also winning back the US military aid suspended after Cairo cracked down on the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian military officials and representatives of pro-government Libyan forces have met several times over the past two months in Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Marsa Matrouh, Egyptian security officials said.

An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "intelligence and training" assistance were on the table.

 The Egyptian government spokesperson declined comment, but Ahmad Buzeyad Al-Missmari, spokesperson of the Libyan General Chief of Staff, confirmed Egypt had offered training for troops.

‘Egypt has more intelligence’

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called for decisive action against militants based in Libya, who Egypt says sneak across the border to help Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis jihadists attack Egyptian security forces in its Sinai desert near Israel.

"Egypt has more intelligence on where they [the Libyan-based militants] are, how many there are, what kinds of weapons they had available," the intelligence official said.

Egyptian security officials have said Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis - the country's most dangerous militant group - has contacts with al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State, now targeted by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria after it swept through Iraq, executing those who did not declare allegiance.

Sisi, who has publically backed but not joined the air strikes, said last month any global coalition against Islamic State should tackle an array of extremist groups, making clear his main concern lay closer to home.

Islamists in Libya with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood were hit by air strikes last month that US officials said were staged by Egypt and United Arab Emirates.

The UAE has not formally responded to the allegations and Egypt publicly denied involvement in the bombings, which came against a background of US concern some countries may see the war against Islamic State as a green light for other attacks.

Biggest armies

With the influence of the Islamic State spreading among the North Africa-based Islamist militant groups which send jihadi fighters to Syria and Iraq, Libya's western neighbour Algeria also plans to train Libyan forces.

But deeper involvement by Egypt, to its east, brings in one of the biggest armies in the Middle East, seeking to patch up a reputation damaged by its overthrow last year of elected Islamst president Mohamed Mursi after mass protests against him.

In April, Washington restored some of the annual $1.3bn military aid to Egypt it froze after the military takeover but analysts said human rights concerns meant relations remained cool.

Libya has been torn apart by the worst violence since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

‘Weapons in Libya are like rice’

The government and elected parliament have relocated to Tobruk in the far east since losing control of the capital, Tripoli, where a rival administration has been created by mainly Islamist-aligned forces from the western city of Misrata.

The government has accused Sudan and Qatar of seeking to arm groups ranged against it, allegations both states have firmly denied, and at the United Nations on Saturday, it asked the world for weapons to help restore security and rebuild its institutions so it does not have to "face terrorism alone".

An Egyptian national security official who spoke to Reuters said the country would not give arms. "Weapons in Libya are like rice," he said, suggesting they were already abundant.

Some of those weapons are smuggled across the border and end up in the hands of Ansar fighters, security officials say. "Security forces are catching smugglers everyday," said the national security official.

Others come from dealers in Sudan who place them on boats that travel the Nile then unload in Egyptian towns, the officials said.

Read more on:    isis  |  muammar gaddafi  |  libya  |  egypt  |  north africa

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