Skip to main content

US expresses 'horror' after mass graves found in areas retaken from Haftar

US diplomat says reports of mass graves in Libyan city of Tarhuna, recently held by Khalifa Haftar's forces, are 'truly disturbing'

The United States has expressed "horror" after at least eight mass graves were discovered in northwestern Libya, territory previously held by forces loyal to renegade militia commander Khalifa Haftar.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemned the discovery on Thursday, calling for a "prompt, effective and transparent" probe into the killings.

The US Embassy in Libya echoed the mission's call for an investigation, saying on Twitter that it "shares UNSMIL's horror and supports immediate efforts by Libyan authorities and international bodies to investigate these intolerable abuses and bring perpetrators to justice".

Earlier this month, forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) recaptured Tarhuna, Haftar's last stronghold in western Libya.

The city had served as a launchpad for the unsuccessful attempt of Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) to capture the capital. 

The GNA's advance came as the LNA and allied Russian mercenaries retreated south and east as their 14-month Tripoli offensive fell apart.

In Twitter and Facebook posts on Wednesday, the military wing of the GNA posted images and videos of a purported mass grave, which it said included the handcuffed body of a 12-year-old girl. 

On Thursday, David Schenker, US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, called the reports "truly disturbing".

Egypt initiative

While pushing to capture Tripoli, Haftar announced late in April that he was abandoning a 2015 UN-sponsored agreement that produced the national unity government of the GNA.

The United Arab Emirates-backed militia leader also claimed that he had the "people's will and mandate" to govern the country - a move that was denounced as a coup attempt by the GNA.

Egypt, which also backs Haftar, proposed a truce in Libya last week in an initiative that also called for an elected leadership council.

Turkey tests military flights to Libya amid reports of establishing bases
Read More »

Still, the GNA and its supporters in Turkey were quick to dismiss the proposal as an effort to mitigate the LNA's military setbacks.

"The ceasefire effort in Cairo was stillborn. If a ceasefire is to be signed, it should be done at a platform that brings everyone together," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said on Wednesday. "The ceasefire call to save Haftar does not seem sincere or believable to us."

Turkey has deployed drones and Syrian opposition forces to fight alongside the GNA in Libya.

US backs UN process

On Thursday, Washington also voiced scepticism at the Egyptian initiative, calling it "helpful" but stressing that it did not replace the UN-backed process, which include German efforts to end the violence.

"That said, we think that the UN process, the UN-led process, and the Berlin process are really the frameworks and most productive frameworks for everybody to engage in negotiations and to make progress on ceasefire and negotiation - consolidation of that," Schenker told reporters.

"So I think there were some departures from that within the Egyptian initiative, but we still welcome the productive parts of that."

Although the US officially backs the GNA, Tripoli has accused western powers of covertly backing Haftar.

Last year, after US President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Haftar, the White House said in a statement that Trump "recognised Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources".