Starting last April President Trump caught many in his own administration off guard when he unexpectedly thanked renegade General Khalifa Haftar for "securing Libya's oil resources" at a moment the rebel leader assaulted the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
The public praise and phone call between Trump and the former CIA-backed warlord was a shock at the time given the US has maintained a policy of only recognizing the GNA in line with UN allies.
But now that continued recognition appears to be shifting fast after this week Trump admin officials held multiple meetings with an official representing Haftar's political team named Aref al-Nayed, expected to hold a top leadership position once Tripoli is 'liberated' by Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).
Revelation of the high level meetings has renewed speculation and confusion over the future of Washington policy in Libya, and if its priorities will shift to more open support of Haftar's LNA, responsible for a renewed grinding civil war of the past two years which by this past summer had killed at least 1,000.
Details of the meetings were first revealed by Defense One as follows:
In two meetings with National Security Council officials in Washington this fall, Aref al Nayed, an Islamic scholar and former ambassador to the UAE, has pitched himself as a transitional political leader for Libya after Hifter, the military commander, “liberates” Tripoli, according to documents provided by Nayed and multiple sources with knowledge of the meetings.
And the report offers more on Nayed:
Nayed, who has previously announced that he is running for president of Libya, fiercely condemns the UN-backed GNA and portrays himself as a consensus choice who will be able to bring together Libya’s tribal factions under a so-called “National Unity Government.” NSC officials were “noncommittal” to Nayed’s proposal, according to a former senior U.S. official familiar with the meetings.
Despite the NSC saying's it remains "noncommittal" it's highly unusual for such a meeting to take place, tantamount to meeting with a rebel "opposition" group at a moment it's trying to topple a US-recognized government.
The UAE's front men in Libya are laying siege to the capital of Tripoli.
Both Haftar and Nayed have the close support of the UAE, among the main weapons providers to the LNA forces.
It's as yet unclear what other support from the US pro-Haftar forces have already received beyond the politically supportive statements issued by Trump last Spring.
As for Haftar, he's long been described by many analysts as "the CIA's man in Libya" — given he spent a couple decades living in exile a mere few minutes from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia during Gaddafi's rule.