In November 2020, following an unprecedented telephone conversation in April between President Trump and General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of Libya’s unrecognized government, the Libyan National Army (LNA), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a press release announcing a major arms deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The US State Department had agreed to sell “up to 50 F-35 Lightning II aircrafts; up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems; and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions” to the UAE for approximately $23 billion. An arms deal of this magnitude would generally take several years to complete, however, negotiations between countries were finalized within a few months.
The suit was then transferred to the incoming Biden administration and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. LAA engaged with the Biden administration early on, preparing it a white paper that presented goals and suggested a roadmap to help the administration implement new policies addressing Libya over its first 100 days in office. LAA President, Dr. Esam Omeish, ensured that a critical correspondence made to the Biden administration was that Haftar “is no longer a part of Libya’s future.”
In February 2021, the Biden administration called for “ending all American support for offensive operations” in the region, “including relevant arms sales.” However, in April 2021, the Biden administration announced that it would resume with the UAE arms deal. The UAE has historically violated previous arms sales agreements, through the transfer of weapons to dangerous militias and committing unlawful airstrikes.This weaponry sale is the first time a F-35 Lightning II aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Systems have been authorized to a country in the region due to major concerns and risks regarding such advanced technology and weaponry ending up in the possession of militias or other dangerous actors. Therefore, this arms deal signifies a policy change for the State Department.
NYCFPA et al. v. U.S. Department of State (Case 1:20-cv-03847):
In the lawsuit, the NYCFPA points out that, if State Department actions do not align with previous American policy, then it is required to provide a formal explanation for such policy change. Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), a well-reasoned explanation for the actions of the State Department must be provided, as well as explanations for any changes in prior US policy in order to signify that the new policy has been rationalized thoroughly with all facts, and possible results, considered. Under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), the sale or lease of arms by the US to a foreign state must “strengthen the security of the [US] and promote world peace” to be valid. Both the Trump and the Biden administration have failed to meet these critical requirements, arguing that the UAE needs advanced defense methods to protect itself against Iranian threats, and that the sale would strengthen the strategic relationship between the US and the UAE in a supplemental conclusory statement. However, the UAE has historically utilized US weapons in unlawful airstrikes against civilians, residential neighborhoods, and hospitals in Libya in accordance with warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army forces (LNA), and there is no reason to believe that it will not do it again.
For example, on July 2, 2019, the UAE committed an unlawful airstrike on the Tajura DCIM Detention Center for migrants in Libya, which operated under the United Nations recognized Government of the National Accord’s (GNA) Interior Ministry. The airstrike killed approximately 53 and injured 130 refugees and migrants. In November 2019, Human Rights Watch reported another unlawful drone attack committed by the UAE in Wadi al-Rabie, killing 8 civilians and wounding 27. In January 2020, another UAE airstrike targeted a military academy, killing 26 unarmed cadets. Overall, the UAE holds responsibility for approximately 67 airstrikes in Libya in the past decade, resulting in as many as 167 civilian deaths, including children. The weapons available in the ongoing arms deal have the same capacities as other weapons previously utilized by the UAE to commit such horrific atrocities against the Libyan people–if not stronger ones.