Libyan National Army hires firm to forge closer ties with US

FILE - In this May 9, 2019 file photo, provided by Egypt's presidency media office, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, walks with Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army, in Cairo, Egypt. Hifter has hired a lobbying firm to assist it in forging better relations with the U.S. government. A foreign agent registration posted Tuesday on the Justice Department web site shows that the Houston-based Linden Government Solutions is to paid about $2 million over the one-year term of the deal. (Egyptian Presidency Media office via AP, File) –The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Libyan general who has gained control of the city of Benghazi and is believed to have ties to the CIA has hired a Texas-based lobbying firm to help him forge closer relations with the U.S. as he seeks to defeat rival militias and consolidate his hold on the North African country.

Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and his Libyan National Army have hired Linden Government Solutions, based in Houston, according to a foreign agent registration document released Tuesday by the Justice Department.

Linden, which would receive about $2 million under the 13-month agreement, also will assist with “international coalition building, and general public relations” for the Libyan National Army.

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Hifter last month was granted a phone call with President Donald Trump and has been gaining international support in his campaign to take control of an oil-rich country that has been in turmoil since the uprising that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

A White House statement about the call said “the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

The chaos that followed the overthrow and killing of Gadhafi resulted in a divided country, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli overseeing the country’s west and a government in the east aligned with Hifter.

Hifter served as a senior officer under Gadhafi but defected in the 1980s during Libya’s ruinous war with Chad, in which he and hundreds of soldiers were captured in an ambush. He later spent more than two decades in the suburbs of Washington, where he is widely believed to have worked with the CIA, before returning to join the uprising in 2011. He eventually built up the forces known as the Libyan National Army.

The Linden executives leading the firm’s representation, Stephen Payne and Brian Ettinger, have extensive knowledge of Libya, the company said in a statement. Payne, Linden’s president, said he has been in communication with Hifter for the past five years, according to the statement.

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Libya has struggled to rebuild its oil industry — its main source of revenue — since 2011. The firm’s statement doesn’t mention a specific role for Linden in Libya’s energy industry, but both Payne and Ettinger have experience in international oil and natural gas markets.

Payne represented the government of Turkmenistan, a central Asian nation of 5.4 million people, in a consortium of other countries and international companies to build a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, according to highlights of Payne’s career provided by Linden.

Ettinger and Payne traveled to Libya in 2011 on a humanitarian mission, before Gadhafi was removed, and helped negotiate the release of several imprisoned journalists, the statement said. Ettinger is Linden’s general counsel.

Payne did foreign travel advance work for the George W. Bush administration. He also served on Bush’s campaigns. Other clients Payne has represented include Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, JP Morgan, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

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Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner

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