President Donald Trump appeared to contradict existing US State Department policy through his alleged endorsement of a militia’s ground offensive against the UN-recognized government in Libya, according to numerous news reports this week.
During a phone call on April 15, Trump indicated his support for Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army, and Haftar’s offensive against the capital of Tripoli, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
Haftar’s forces launched a campaign to overthrow the embattled UN-backed government in Libya earlier this month. The North African country has been torn by war after the toppling of former Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The remnants of the ongoing civil war bred unrest and introduced a power vacuum on which Islamic State militants could capitalize.
Trump appeared to side with Haftar’s assault during his phone call on Friday, according to US officials cited in Bloomberg’s report. The officials reportedly claimed the call left the Libyans with the impression that Trump endorsed the ground assault.
State Department officials familiar with US-Libya policy also claimed the phone call took them by surprise, according to a Politico report published on Monday.
The alleged endorsement conflicts with comments the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made on April 7, in which he condemned Haftar’s military forces who carried out the offensive.
In a statement following the call, the White House said it “recognized [Haftar’s] significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.”
Trump and Haftar were also said to have discussed a “shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said.
A National Security Council official disputed Bloomberg’s description of the phone call.
“The characterizations of conversations between the [White House] & Field Marshal Haftar are inaccurate,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said on Twitter. “We encouraged Bloomberg not to run it with bad information.”
Marquis did not offer any further clarification about the conversations between Trump and Haftar.
If the claims in Bloomberg’s report are correct, it would contradict existing US policy on Haftar’s offensive. The State Department denounced the violence and urged the Libyan factions to return to the negotiation table as recently as Monday.
Pompeo said he was “deeply concerned” with the fighting in his April 7 statement:
“We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said at the time.
“There is no military solution to the Libya conflict,” Pompeo added. “This is why the United States continues to press Libyan leaders, together with our international partners, to return to political negotiations.”
The State Department reiterated on Monday that it condemned the violence and believed Haftar “can be an important part of a political solution,” Politico reported.
The State Department did not respond to INSIDER’s request for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Trump has previously left many top officials in the dark with abrupt policy pronouncements. In a tweet in 2017, the president announced a ban on transgender service members. Senior defense officials, such as then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, were reportedly blindsided by that declaration.
Trump’s announcement that the US had officially conquered ISIS in Syria was also met with concern from US officials. He appeared to preemptively claim Syria had been liberated, which the US-supported Syrian Defense Forces was supposed to have announced, officials told the Associated Press.