Hifter supports role for Egyptian army in Libyan conflict

In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Khalifa Hifter said he would support the Egyptian army carrying out strikes against al-Qaeda-affiliated groups along the Egyptian-Libyan border, even if these strikes were in Libyan territory.

al-monitor Khalifa Hifter speaks during a news conference in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi, May 31, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori.

Topics covered

libyan revolution, egypt, cia, abdel fattah al-sisi

Jun 4, 2014

In the second part of an interview from within his stronghold at an air force base [in eastern Libya], Khalifa Hifter, the commander of "Operation Dignity," spoke about the border with Egypt and securing it. Hifter said he agrees with the method chosen by Egypt [to secure the border], even if it reached the point of a military strike within the borders of Egypt's western neighbor. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm asked about his long period of exile in Virginia, where the CIA's headquarters are located. He maintained a steady tone, confirming that [claims he collaborated with the Americans] were lies launched by his opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood. He explained that if he was going to spy for anyone, it would have been [former President] Moammar Gadhafi when he was at his peak. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: What are the most important topics you will discuss with the next Egyptian president in the event that you meet him?

Hifter: God willing, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will win and he will become president [the interview was held on May 27]. In this case, I hope to emphasize our Arab identity, and cooperate in confronting foreign intervention in Libya. The country has become a hotbed for all who want to stick their noses in its affairs. Libya is a country full of petrol, gas, uranium and gold, and it is coveted by all. We need the support of Egypt in warding off these ambitions. This can only be done through the unity of the Arab nation, both economically and politically.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: What are the most important countries you can cooperate with in the reconstruction of Libya, at some stage after the army is rebuilt and stability is achieved?

Hifter: We will certainly resort to neighboring countries, because we want to create excellent neighbors. We want for there to be an exchange of interests between us, as Arabs. The top priority for Libya in the next stage is Egypt. When there is no Egypt, there are no Arabs. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: How will you secure Libya's eastern border with Egypt and its western one with Algeria? 

Hifter: Egypt and Algeria are brotherly states, and cooperation between us and Algeria will be quick and easy. We have made great strides in contacts with them. As for Egypt, there will be no disputes among us, because [both countries'] interests are achieved through securing the border. Anything that disturbs the lives of Egyptians must not come from Libya, and nothing should come into Libya from Egypt that disturbs citizens' lives here. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Have you tried to communicate with the Egyptian authorities, as you did with Algeria? 

Hifter: Not yet, but I had previously advised the ruling authorities in Tripoli to leave the task of securing the border with Egypt to Egypt itself, because [the Libyan authorities] are unable to do this. This government is incapacitated and can't provide anything. But the future must be built with a "nationalist hand" that can secure the borders for Libya and its neighbors. [The borders] can't be left open for all of these calamities to enter. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: There are al-Qaeda elements threatening to attack Egypt from eastern Libya. If this happens, the Egyptian army may respond with a military strike. What would be your position at that time?

Hifter: Of course I support any military strike that secures Egypt's border, even if it is in Libya. We want to get rid of these "plague-ridden" groups in Derna, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Sirte, Tripoli and the Algerian border. We absolutely cannot allow them to take any action against any brotherly and friendly neighboring country. This topic requires coordination, to prevent them from establishing camps in Egypt or Libya. The country was open for three years, [al-Qaeda-linked groups] established camps and [they have] planes. They have brought people in without visas or permission. People came to Libya from all the "plague-ridden" places in the world. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: There have been news reports about contacts that took place between you and the Europeans and Americans. What did these contacts result in?

Hifter: We have no contacts with them. If we contacted anyone, it would be Egypt before any other country. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: How many soldiers and officers have been killed at the hands of Ansar al-Sharia and the brigades affiliated with it in recent months?

Hifter: Five hundred officers and conscripts were killed. They were waiting for them at the gates of Benghazi, and they massacred them. This occurred before we started fighting them. The real war began on April 18, and the first real confrontation left 70 dead and 250 wounded. This was on the so-called "Friday of Dignity," about two weeks ago. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm:  What is your opinion on the parliament and the new government of Ahmad Maiteeq?

Hifter: In fact, there is no government nor parliament. The people have said their last word, which is that the parliament no longer represents them since Feb. 7, 2014. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: What will you do after parliament inaugurates Maiteeq as the head of the Libyan government?

Hifter: There is no such [thing] as "inauguration." Can there be a government "by cash," where people are buying positions with money!? These things are unacceptable for us. We want a normal government produced by elections, without fraud and without buying and selling [positions]. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: How do you explain the insistence of the parliament to inaugurate Maiteeq as prime minister, despite the large objections and your threats about this matter?

Hifter: These are deals and material interests. He is a businessman, and the budget, for example, was distributed before it was formulated. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Is there Emirati-Saudi military support for your troops?

Hifter: We haven't seen or heard anything like this, but we expect [support] from all our friends. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: What about your time in the United States?

Hifter: I arrived in the United States on Dec. 19, 1990, and I left on March 11, 2011, during the Libyan revolution. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: But some are accusing you of having ties with the CIA, by virtue of the fact that you resided in Virginia [where the CIA is headquartered], and they allege that this relationship continues until now.

Hifter: The Muslim Brotherhood is the best group in the world at promoting lies, and they have factories that produce countless lies. I have no need for this, because the CIA chooses people that need money or people who seek to establish these ties themselves. As for me, I do not need this and do not want this. Moreover, if this occurred as they say, no one would have supported me in Libya. I have convictions that are not compatible with being an agent. If I am an agent, it's for the Libyan people only. 

During the time I was in the United States, my interest was my national issue with Gadhafi, and it was not a personal issue. This man became a dictator, and I decided to confront him militarily and not politically. The organizations I tried to create abroad were discovered by Gadhafi and I paid the price for this, as well as my parents and relatives. Gadhafi resorted to heads of state — such as [former Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak — ministers, ambassadors and money to try and make me return to Libya. But he did not succeed. If I was going to be spy for anyone I would have done it for Gadhafi first. But all of these things did not change me in any way, except for [increasing] my determination and insistence, despite the fact that two death sentences were issued against me, the first in 1996 and the second in 2011.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Why didn't you make a move militarily when others were in control after the revolution, despite your role in the latter?

Hifter: When I returned to Libya during the revolution, I was the commander of ground forces. After things settled I decided to rest, the "rest of a warrior." However, unfortunately, after only six months I saw that this boat was on its way to sinking, and at this time things changed. So we took a different position and decided to confront the situation. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Did you face difficulty in bringing together the Libyan army again? 

Hifter: Not at all. I didn't experience any difficulty in calling military members. As soon as they heard the call, they went in large numbers to various sites in Libya. It is difficult for the government to do this kind of thing. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: To whom are Libya's Muslim Brotherhood members loyal? 

Hifter: The Libyan Brotherhood has their head outside the country and their legs here. The Brotherhood is not loyal to the nation, and the same is true for those who ruled Egypt. All of their loyalty is to the [Brotherhood] organization, which they join forces under.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Did any of the Muslim Brotherhood members fleeing Egypt after the break-up of the Rabia al-Adawiya sit-in try to contact you or any of the Libyan army leaders?

Hifter: No, but they contacted [the Libyan Brotherhood], and they formed camps in some cities such as Tripoli. They are fleeing from the Gaza Strip to be trained in Misrata and Derna. Members of parliament provided facilities for them, such as passports, visas and housing. And they gave them money, which they didn't have. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: What will be your next steps if the Libyan government continues on its path and doesn't respond to your decision to dissolve parliament, and they decide to recognize the new government headed by Maiteeq? 

Hifter: Let's announce this at that time. Our steps will surprise them.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: The spokesman for the army, which you lead, threatened on the Libyan al-Asima channel to arrest MPs if the session was held for the inauguration of Maiteeq. But nothing happened, although the session was held. How do you explain this?

Hifter: This announcement was made without permission, and we retracted it. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: You received the Order of the Sinai Star Award in recognition of your role in the October War. How has this honor impacted your life?

Hifter: [Receiving] the Order of the Sinai Star is one of the good memories that will remain with me and my children, reminding me that I carried out my duty toward Egypt. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm: What about the situation of Libyans who moved to Egypt after the recent events?

Hifter: We ourselves are asking them about their situation in Egypt. We heard that Libyans who sought refuge in Egypt recently are living in graveyards and engaged in degrading work, after having lived a good and happy life in Libya. They moved to extreme poverty. As the prophet Ali said, "If poverty were a man, I would have slain him."

Al-Masry Al-Youm: How do you assess the situation of Egyptians in Libya, given the repeated attacks against them. And do you support the return of the Egyptian ambassador to Libya and reopening the Egyptian Embassy? 

Hifter: If it was possible to protect [the embassy], then maybe. But I don't highly recommend it. All places are now unprotected, and it will take some time before we are able to protect them ourselves. 

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