An airstrike by Khalifa Haftar’s forces hit a migrant detention center east of Tripoli yesterday and killed at least 44 people and wounded up to 130. Haftar and his forces are mainly backed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and this airstrike is part of the assault on the Libyan capital that Trump reportedly endorsed when it began. The Trump administration is now shielding Haftar from condemnation by the Security Council by blocking the statement promoted by the U.K.:
The air strike hit the Tajoura detention center in the suburbs of Tripoli on Wednesday. Libya’s Tripoli-based government, which is backed by the UN, has blamed the attack on rival Libyan National Army forces loyal to rogue general Khalifa Hiftar.
During a two-hour closed-door meeting of the Security Council, Britain circulated a statement that condemned the air strike and called for a ceasefire.
According to diplomatic sources, the US prevented the 15-member Security Council from issuing a statement although it was unclear why.
The migrants killed and injured in the attack are among the tens of thousands of people who are trying to reach Europe from all across Africa, and many are detained in Libya and held in terrible conditions there. The centers are overcrowded, and the cells often lack proper ventilation and drinking water. There is poor sanitation, and health conditions are likewise poor as a result. In the case of this detention center, the food supply was also unreliable. The migrants depended on handouts from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and locals. Migrants in Libya are also subjected to torture and abuse. Even before the airstrike slaughtered dozens of these people and injured scores more, they were being very badly treated, and the remaining migrants still are. The CBS report on the airstrike quotes a statement from Doctors Without Borders:
International medical aid group Doctors Without Borders condemned the strike as “a horrific tragedy that could have easily been avoided,” and chastised European nations for helping Libyan coast guard forces stop the migrants crossing the Mediterranean in boats and returning them to the notorious detention centers in the war-torn country.
“Our teams visited the center earlier yesterday and saw 126 people in the cell that was hit. Those that survived are in absolute fear for their lives,” the group, which goes by its French language acronym MSF, said in a statement on Wednesday. “What is needed now is not empty condemnation but the urgent and immediate evacuation from Libya of all refugees and migrants held in detention centers… The reality is that for every person evacuated or resettled this year, more than twice as many have been forcibly returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard with support from the European Union.”
The so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) initially denied carrying out the airstrike, but there is no question that Haftar’s forces were responsible. They have now admitted it and attempted to shift the blame by claiming that the migrants had been moved into an old arms depot:
East Libya-based forces on Thursday admitted to carrying out an airstrike on a migrant camp that left dozens dead.
At least 44 people were killed and 130 others injured on Tuesday in an airstrike on a migrant detention center in the Tajoura suburb of the country’s capital, Tripoli.
The location “is actually a base of a military brigade and arms depot,” spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said late Wednesday at a press conference in Benghazi.
We have become familiar with such pathetic excuse-making from the years of Saudi coalition attacks on civilian targets in Yemen, and the LNA’s story doesn’t hold up. According to a spokesman for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the coordinates of the detention center had been provided to both sides in the conflict so that it would not be targeted. Haftar’s forces knew where the detention center was and they knew what it was, and they bombed it anyway. It is a clear violation of international law and a war crime, and Haftar and his patrons should be held accountable for it. It appears that Haftar’s forces have the same blatant disregard for civilian lives in Libya as Haftar’s Saudi and Emirati patrons do in Yemen.
There has been a lot of confusion about what U.S. policy in Libya is, but this latest U.S. action on behalf of Haftar and his patrons clears things up in the worst way. By shielding Haftar and the LNA from condemnation by the Security Council, the Trump administration has declared for the warlord. The Trump administration doesn’t just cover for Saudi coalition crimes in Yemen, but also extends that protection to Saudi and UAE-backed proxies in Libya as well. That is consistent with Trump’s earlier expressions of support for Haftar, and it fits the administration’s disgraceful pattern of doing whatever the Saudi and Emirati governments want. As we find out more about this, it won’t come as a surprise if we learn that the U.S. blocked this statement as a favor to one or more of Haftar’s despotic patrons.