Libya: Government forces launch offensive to liberate key airbase from Haftar rebels

Forces with Libya’s internationally-recognized government have reportedly launched an offensive to liberate a key airbase southwest of the capital Tripoli from the clutches of rebel forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar.

Days after rejecting a Haftar-proposed ceasefire, forces of the UN-backed administration in Tripoli launched an offensive early on Tuesday, using heavy artillery, to retake the al-Watiya Airbase, which has served as a major launch pad for Haftar’s airstrikes on the capital during the past several months.

“Clashes are raging on near the base,” which is second only to Mitiga International Airport, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency quoted an unnamed Libyan military source as saying.

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 Government of National Accord — and another group based in the eastern city of Tobruk, supported militarily by rebel forces, collectively known as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), under Haftar’s command.

The military commander, who is primarily supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Jordan, launched a deadly offensive to capture Tripoli in April last year.

Despite fierce fighting, he has so far failed to achieve his objective of ousting the Tripoli government, and the offensive has stalled outside the city. Reports say that more than 1,000 have to date been killed in the violence.

Numerous international attempts to bring about peace between the two warring sides have failed.

During the past few weeks, however, government forces and their allied fighters have turned the tables, capturing a string of cities west of Tripoli.

According to Libya observers, the Libyan government’s capture of al-Watiya Airbase, which has also been employed as a key supply route by Haftar’s rebels, will be a significant strategic loss for Haftar and further derail his stalled offensive to oust the UN-backed government.

Separately, Libyan military spokesman Mohammed Kununu said in a statement on Tuesday aerial raids had been carried out on the Gariyat region, some 270 kilometers south of Tripoli, targeting a vehicle carrying militants and a supply truck. But he did not say whether the strikes resulted in casualties.

Everyone is looking for a piece of Libya during its civil war

As everyone’s attention has been stolen away by the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, Libya is still engaged in a bloody civil war.

Last week, Haftar proposed a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, following requests by the international community and “friendly countries.” However, the government rejected the truce, saying it did not trust the strongman based on his previous ceasefire breaches, and that it would keep fighting.

Haftar’s critics also said that he was only calling for a ceasefire now that his rebel forces were on the back foot.

Last month, Haftar claimed to have a “mandate” from the Libyans to govern, prompting Tripoli to accuse him of staging a coup against the internationally-recognized government, branding his claim as “a farce and the latest in a long series of coups d’etat.”

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster, and later killing, of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

By Africafrique and agencies

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