Saudi Arabia has "promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation" to seize Tripoli, says a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The promise is said to have been made days before the Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital in an attempt to unite the divided country under his rule.
According to the WSJ the offer came during a visit by Haftar to Saudi Arabia, which was one of several meetings between the head of the Libyan National Army and foreign dignitaries in the weeks and days before he began the military campaign in April. Forces of the retired general moved units to the west of Libya, claiming: "We want Tripoli for dignity."
The Saudi government refused to comment on the report and the claims regarding the financing of Haftar's forces, however, a Saudi official was quoted saying: "We were very generous with him." Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert with the German Institute for International, explained that Haftar had become heavily dependent on foreign backers including the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. US officials have also claimed that Russia had sent weapons and advisers, which Moscow has denied.
Explaining Saudi's reasons for supporting Haftar, the WSJ said that he was seen as "a bulwark against Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, who took on a prominent role in Libya following the 2011 uprising and continue to participate in political life under the Tripoli government."
Haftar, a former general in ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi's army who later joined the revolt against him, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich desert south earlier this year, before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April. The UN Libya envoy has described Haftar's attempt to take Tripoli as a coup.
Speaking to BBC radio yesterday Ghassan Salame said Haftar's decision to issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj and other top Tripoli officials "sounded more like a coup than counter-terrorism".