France says anti-tank missiles found in Libya were 'unusable'

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Wednesday anti-tank missiles it bought from the United States and were later found in a base belonging to troops loyal to Libya's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar were never intended for sale or transfer to any party to Libya's conflict.

The Army Ministry said the missiles were intended for the "self-protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out intelligence and counter-terrorism operations".

"Damaged and unusable, the armaments were being temporarily stocked at a depot ahead of their destruction," the ministry said in a statement.

It is the first time since 2016 that France has publicly acknowledged it still has special forces deployed in Libya. It is not clear how many troops are deployed.

The cache of four Javelin anti-tank missiles were discovered after forces loyal to the U.N.-backed government raided the camp in Gheryan, in the mountains south of Tripoli, on June 26, the New York Times earlier reported.

Gheryan was the headquarters for Haftar's forces as they massed for an assault on Tripoli in an attempt to overthrow the U.N.-backed government.

France broadly supports Haftar, regarding his forces as helpful in the fight against Islamist militants.

In its statement, the Army Ministry denied the Javelins had been transferred to a local force, and reiterated that the arms were not subject to import restrictions because they were intended for the protection of French troops.

"France has long supported all established forces engaged in the fight against terrorism, in Libya, in the Tripoli area and in Cyrenaica (the east of the country), as well as more broadly in the Sahel," it said.

"It has never been a question of selling, yielding, loaning or transferring these munitions to anybody in Libya."

(Reporting by Sophie Louet; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Richard Lough and Alison Williams)