Libya’s UN-backed government says its forces have managed to fully regain control of the capital, Tripoli, and its suburbs, after being besieged for more than a year by forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar.
Since 2014, two rival seats of power have emerged in Libya, namely the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, known as the GNA, and another group under Haftar’s command and based in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is supported militarily by forces loyal to him and is collectively known as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA).
The strongman, supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan, launched a deadly offensive to capture Tripoli, the seat of the GNA, in April last year. His forces, however, haven’t been able to advance past the city’s outskirts.
In a statement on Thursday, the GNA’s military operations room said that it now had control over all borders of the Tripoli city administrative area.
“Tripoli has been liberated and fully secured, and we have reached the administrative borders of the city of Tarhuna, southeast of the capital,” said Mustafa al-Majei, the spokesperson of the Volcano of Rage Operation.
“The military vehicles of putschist Khalifa Haftar’s militia have been seen withdrawing from Tarhuna toward the city of Bani Walid,” located 180 kilometers (112 miles) southeast of Tripoli, he added.
The all-out Volcano of Rage operation, part of the larger Operation Peace Storm, was launched by GNA forces in April to liberate Tarhuna city, which was Haftar’s main foothold in west Libya. The GNA launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter Haftar’s attacks on Tripoli.
Separately the GNA’s deputy defense minister Salah Namrush said, “Our forces are continuing their advance, chasing the terrorist militias from the walls of Tripoli.”
“Some of their commanders are fleeing towards Bani Walid airport,” in the interior 170 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of the capital, he added on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Reuters quoted an unnamed military source from the LNA as saying that Haftar’s forces had completed their withdrawal on Thursday from Tripoli’s districts of Ain Zara, Abu Salim and Qasr bin Ghashir toward a town near Tarhuna.
The Thursday development came just a day after the GNA troops managed to liberate Tripoli’s International Airport, which has been closed for the past six years and was seized by Haftar’s forces last year, when he waged an offensive against the capital.
These military gains were made ahead of what appeared to be moves toward talks on a ceasefire between the two sides, after months of gains to oust Haftar from much of his foothold in the northwest.
On Monday, the UN said both sides had agreed to resume ceasefire negotiations, but warned that a flood of weapons and armed men into Libya in defiance of an arms embargo clearly threatened a major new escalation, an apparent reference to what Ankara is doing.
In recent months, Ankara, a close ally of Tripoli, has significantly helped the GNA push back Haftar’s forces and take back multiple areas by providing the GNA with logistics and military equipment.
Furthermore and in a controversial move, Ankara has also sent thousands of Turkish-backed Syrian militants there to allegedly fight alongside the GNA fighters against Haftar’s forces.
Erdogan vows support for GNA against pro-Haftar forces
Additionally on Thursday, Sarraj arrived in Turkey to meet with the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, as the two allies seek to lock in recent gains against Haftar.
During a joint press conference with Sarraj following their meeting behind closed doors in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged increased support for the GNA fighting Haftar’s forces.
“History will judge those who cause bloodshed and tears in Libya by supporting putschist Haftar,” Erdogan said, stressing that Turkey would stand by the GNA and continued fighting on all international platforms for a “just and legitimate solution.”
Erdogan also called on the international community to stop Haftar from illegally “selling” Libya’s oil, which rightfully belongs to the Libyan people.
The GNA prime minister, for his part, expressed his gratitude to Ankara “for its historic and brave stance on Libya.”
“We will continue our struggle until we eliminate the enemy in Libya,” Sarraj added, referring to the ongoing fight between his government and Haftar’s forces.
“The Libyan government will not allow negotiations in next stages with warlord Khalifa Haftar,” he stressed.
Multiple international attempts to bring about peace between the two warring sides in Libya have failed.
Libya plunged into chaos in 2011 when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.