Armed forces based in Libya’s east have deployed extra troops in preparation for a counterattack to regain control of the oil-rich areas recently lost to militias.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), lost control of the “oil crescent” in central Libya to militias on Friday.
Haftar’s forces had gained control of oil-rich region — where the four terminals of Zuitina, Brega, Ras Lanuf and Sidra are located — six months ago.
A spokesman for the LNA, Colonel Ahmed Mosmary, said they had carried out airstrikes against the militias, known as the Benghazi Defense Brigade (BDB), on Saturday.
“This is a war against a whole region,” he said, referring to the attacks earlier by the militia on Libya’s eastern region, which is controlled by the government in Tobruk. “They will not win.”
The occupation of the terminals by the militia has stoked fears of a stoppage of oil production, which would paralyze the already-ailing Libyan economy; and the facilities could sustain serious damage if clashes escalate.
Libya has been split between opposing forces since a NATO military intervention that followed the 2011 uprising and that led to the overthrow and death of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Rival governments, set up in Tripoli in the west and the eastern city of Tobruk back in 2014, have been competing ever since.
The LNA is linked to the government based in the east.
Each of the governments is backed by a set of armed forces, militias, tribes, and political factions. Haftar has refused to profess allegiance to the government in Tripoli, which has been recognized by the United Nations (UN).
Mosmary, the spokesman for the LNA, accused the rival government in the west of having launched the attack on the oil facilities. The Tripoli government, however, has condemned the fighting and said it had no role in it.
The Benghazi-based Takfiri militants, linked to Daesh and opposed to both the Tripoli and Tobruk governments, could be behind the attack on the oil facilities.
Libyan National Army (LNA) forces are seen in Qanfudah, near Benghazi, Libya, January 14, 2017. (Photo by AFP)