France has admitted that it is the owner of American-made anti-tank missiles found at a base used by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army for its assault on Tripoli.
The Army Ministry said the Javelin anti-tank guided missiles were for the "self-protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out intelligence and counter-terrorism operations" and never intended for sale or transfer to any party to Libya's conflict.
"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.
Four Javelin missiles were discovered after forces loyal to the United Nations-backed government raided a 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 UN-backed government. France broadly supports Haftar, regarding his forces as helpful in the fight against Islamist militants, but denied foreknowledge of his attack on Tripoli when it began three months ago.
Fayez Al-Sarraj, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based government of national accord, has publicly protested French support for Haftar's group. Some observers have accused Paris of providing the commander with diplomatic cover for his assault on the capital.
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."
The FGM 148 Javelin is a US-manufactured shoulder-launched missile designed to destroy modern tanks by striking them from above, where their armour is thinnest.
Ukraine lobbied for years to be supplied with the weapon to help it halt Russian armoured advances in the Donbas region after war there began in 2014, but was only allowed to buy some in 2018.