Libyan govt claims full control of Tripoli, suburbs

By: AFP      Published: 01:14 AM, 5 Jun, 2020
Libyan govt claims full control of Tripoli, suburbs
GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj, speaking after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday, insisted that his government would impose its control over the whole of Libya.–File photo

Libya's UN-recognised government said Thursday it was back in full control of Tripoli and its suburbs, capping a string of victories against eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar and vowing to take the whole country.

"Our heroic forces have full control of Greater Tripoli right up to the city limits," Mohamad Gnounou, spokesman for the forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said in a Facebook post.

The announcement came after GNA troops retook Tripoli International Airport on Wednesday, following fierce battles more than a year after losing the facility when Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital.

The country's main civilian airport, in Tripoli's southern outskirts, had been disused since 2014 when it was heavily damaged in fighting between rival militias.

But it was a key strategic prize on a major highway into the capital.

The unity government's deputy defence minister Salah Namrush said Thursday that GNA forces "are continuing their advance, chasing the terrorist militias from the walls of Tripoli."

"Some of their commanders are fleeing towards Bani Walid airport," some 170 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of the capital, he added on Facebook.

Haftar, whose main base is in the east, seized most of southern Libya early last year before launching his offensive on the capital in April, vowing to "cleanse" it from "terrorist militias" backing the GNA.

A rapid early advance stalled on the edges of Tripoli in fighting that has killed hundreds and forced around 200,000 people to flee.

But GNA forces with heavy Turkish backing have made a string of gains against Haftar's forces in recent months.

Footage of GNA troops manning positions held until recently by Haftar's fighters was widely circulated on Libyan television channels and social media.

Foreign support 'decisive' 

GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj, speaking after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday, insisted that his government would impose its control over the whole of Libya.

"Our fight continues and we are determined to defeat the enemy, impose state control on the whole of the homeland and destroy all those who jeopardise the construction of a civil, democratic and modern state," Sarraj said.

Wolfram Lacher, a Libya analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said Haftar's setbacks "show how decisive foreign support has become for both sides".

GNA forces have been boosted by Turkish drones and air defences in recent months, enabling them to retake important coastal towns and a key airbase Haftar had been using to bomb GNA positions.

Haftar is supported by neighbouring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as well as Russia.

UN experts in April said hundreds of mercenaries from Russian paramilitary organisation the Wagner Group were fighting for him.

But last month, as Haftar's losses mounted, the GNA said Wagner Group fighters had withdrawn from combat zones south of the capital.

With the loss of Tripoli, "Haftar could face increasing challenges to his authority over eastern and southern Libya," Lacher wrote in a blog post.

He also warned of rivalries within the anti-Haftar alliance.

Mohamad al-Gammoudi, a GNA commander on the Tripoli front, told AFP that government forces had taken back a string of districts across the south of the capital, along with an airbase used by Haftar's forces.

He said GNA forces were now encircling Tarhuna, which served as a major launchpad for Haftar's operation, saying its fall to the GNA was "just a question of time".

But Lacher warned that a GNA effort to take Tarhuna could spark a protracted conflict.

Libya has endured years of violence since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations and scores of militias battling for power. 

The United Nations has urged outside powers to respect a deal reached at a January conference in Berlin, ending foreign meddling and upholding a much-violated arms embargo.

While a truce brokered by Turkey and Russia has been repeatedly violated, the UN said talks on a ceasefire resumed Wednesday, welcoming it as a "positive" first step.

But GNA chief Sarraj said his administration refused to hold talks with "war criminal (Haftar) because he has never been a partner in the political process."

Erdogan echoed his condemnation, saying that countries backing Haftar were "the biggest obstacle before peace" in Libya

"History will judge them," the Turkish leader said.

Russia, for its part, warned Thursday of "catastrophic consequences" if the fighting continues.

"We are convinced that the ongoing military actions will only lead to the aggravation of the systemic crisis" in Libya, said Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.