Haftar, who supports the Libyan government based in the eastern city of Tobruk, traveled to Rome and Paris to bolster his stature as a main player in international efforts to stabilize the North African country.
“When it comes to controlling the southern border, my forces can supply the personnel but you Europeans must send help: drones, helicopters, night vision and vehicles,” the military commander said in an interview published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Friday.
Libya currently has two governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other based in Tobruk. Haftar does not recognize the authority of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the UN.
Italy has been the strongest backer among Western allies for the GNA.
Libya has faced a power vacuum since a US-led military intervention resulted in the downfall of its longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since then, the country has been grappling with chaos and the emergence of numerous militant groups, including Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.
Since the ouster of Gaddafi, the country has also become a key departure point for refugees and asylum seekers, who risk their lives on ill-equipped boats in the hope of reaching Europe. The boats are usually intercepted by European vessels once they enter international waters.
“I have presented a plan based on the principle that Libya is not the arrival point but only a corridor for migrants who want to get to Europe,” Haftar said in the interview.
Haftar urged “all European countries interested in stopping migration” to revoke the UN arms embargo on Libya, which has been in place since 2011.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Haftar said Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti had “already accepted a training program for our soldiers in Italy.”
Pinotti, however, told parliament on Thursday that Italy did not take sides in the row between the rival governments in Libya.
“We want a united and peaceful Libya and we are ready to work with all those who intend to work peacefully for the unity of the country”, she said.
Haftar says force remains option in Libya
Libya’s eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar was quoted on Friday as saying force must remain an option for imposing order in the country, though he added that a political solution would be preferable.
Libya has been mired in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, giving space to Islamist militants and smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants to Europe via Italy.
Italy and other Western states have tried to work with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, but factions aligned with Haftar control eastern Libya and back a rival government.
“It’s obvious that we prefer the political routes, but when these don’t work there must be other solutions,” Haftar told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview.
“We are defeating terrorism in Libya not through diplomatic channels, but with weapons.”
Haftar’s comments came as United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame made a renewed push to get rival factions to sign up to a plan to stabilize Libya and take the country toward presidential and parliamentary elections.
Haftar spoke to the Corriere after his first official visit to Italy on Tuesday. After the meeting, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti expressed hope that all parties would support Salame’s “inclusive political strategy… excluding any military solution”.
Haftar also said Pinotti had agreed to train his soldiers and urged the revocation of a U.N. arms embargo “if European countries are interested in stopping migrants”.
He also criticized Italian efforts to convert armed groups on the Western coast into anti-smuggling police.
“It’s a big mistake. The Italian government should not be led astray by the militias… Tomorrow they will fight among themselves for a share of the spoils; it will be a never-ending blackmail,” Haftar said.
Some international media have reported that the leader of one such group, the Anas al-Dabbashi brigade, had received five million euros directly from Italy’s secret services to stop the migrant boats.
Italy has denied making any direct payments to armed groups.
There has been a sharp reduction in migrant departures since the brigade, known previously as one of the country’s biggest people smuggling gangs, clamped down on trafficking in July in exchange for promises of legitimacy and state security jobs from the GNA.
Almost two weeks ago, fighting broke out in Sabratha between the Dabbashi brigade and its allies and rival cross-town factions.