LONDON: Donald Trump and the Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar discussed “counterterrorism efforts” in the country during a phone call this week.
The two men also talked about the need to achieve “peace and stability in Libya” when they spoke on Monday.
Trump’s contact with Haftar, who heads the Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to the eastern government, is a significant diplomatic boost for the commander after his forces launched an offensive earlier this month against the rival administration based in the capital Tripoli.
In the call, Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said on Friday.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton also spoke recently to Haftar.
It was unclear why the White House waited several days to announce the phone call.
The LNA launched its offensive against the capital after securing areas of the country’s south earlier this year. Haftar says his forces, which have advanced into Tripoli’s outskirts, are fighting to clear the country of “terrorist” elements.
His fighters are making “great sacrifices,” LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari said Friday. He added that the LNA is also engaged in a battle against countries that support “terrorism” in Libya. Al-Mesmari did not specify which countries.
He did however claim that extremist militants had travelled from Turkey to Libya to take part in the battle for Tripoli. An array of militias control the capital and parts of the countries east, and many hold a deeply conservative or extremist ideology.
On Thursday, militants attacked one of Haftar’s bases in the far south of the country. The LNA killed 14 of the fighters who launched the assault on the Tamanhint air base near Sabha, Al-Mesmari said during a press conference.
The offensive comes eight years after Arab Spring protests led to the downfall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi and a split in the country between rival governments in the east and west.
The conflict has also split the international community with the UN supporting the Tripoli government but regional powers, Russia and some European countries supporting Haftar. Countries like Egypt see Haftar as a bulwark against extremist groups.
On Thursday, both the US and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya.
The British-drafted resolution blames Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence.
The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.