UAE Airstrikes in Libya Raises Concerns About U.S. Supplied Weapons

Middle East and North Africa

Earlier this week, The New York Times’ reported that the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cooperated to execute airstrikes against Islamist fighters in Tripoli, Libya twice over the past several weeks. If this is true, it would be an unusual step in overt military tactics for two important recipients of U.S. military equipment. The Times reported that the UAE Air Force carried out the strikes while Egypt provided the military bases to launch the attack, although both the UAE and Egyptian governments deny any involvement in the strikes.F-16

In response to the airstrikes, four senior American officials reportedly said the United States was surprised by the attacks and that they “don’t see this as constructive at all.” In a joint statement with several European governments, the United States strongly condemned the ongoing violence and indicated displeasure with the airstrikes. Without specifically referring to the strikes, the statement read, “We believe outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.”

The first airstrikes on August 18 reportedly left six people dead according to Libyan authorities, while the most recent strikes this past weekend killed 15 fighters and wounded 30 according to the Associated Press. The strikes were aimed at slowing the Islamist militias, but may not have provided any strategic value since the Islamist militants succeeded in capturing the Tripoli airport shortly after the latest strike.

According to The Washington Post, a Libyan militia commander said his men recovered part of an unexploded shell with a serial number, which confirmed it was not part of Libya’s arsenal, but likely American made. The Emirati air fleet consists of some of the best equipment available including eighty American made F-16 fighters bought in 2000 for $6.7B and mid-air refueling capabilities with the Airbus A330 MRTT. Although the United States provides little security aid (mainly in counterterrorism training), from 2007 to 2012 the U.S. government sold the UAE $3.5B in additional aircraft equipment and $9.2B overall including satellites, tanks, missiles and firearms.

If the situation in Libya and across the Middle East continues to deteriorate, the question remains whether this strike by Libya’s Arab neighbors was just an aberration or a sign of more aggressive overt military responses.