Haftar forces head west, triggering Tripoli alert

Sirte forces, which are allied to the UN-backed government in Tripoli, deploy in Sirte, Libya March 12, 2019. Pictures taken March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
Sirte forces, which are allied to the UN-backed government in Tripoli, deploy in Sirte, Libya March 12, 2019. Pictures taken March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili

Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli has declared a military alert after eastern forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar moved towards the western part of the country.

Clashes between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces allied to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based administration, were reported on Wednesday evening south of the capital.

“Right now [there] are clashes south of Tripoli … in Gharyan,” LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari told the UAE-based al-Arabiya channel.

The oil-rich country, which has been in turmoil since the overthrow of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has at least two rival administrations: one based in Tripoli, and another in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is allied with Haftar.

Haftar has expanded his foothold in large parts of Libya in recent years and has repeatedly expressed his intention to march Tripoli.

During the day the LNA had turned up pressure on Tripoli, warning of a military campaign to “liberate the homeland from terrorism”.

“We expect the women of Tripoli to welcome the Libyan army like the women of Benghazi and Derna did,” said Mismari, referring to two eastern cities which the LNA took by force.

Mismari also called on young people in Tripoli to focus on the battle between LNA and Daesh, or Islamic State, in another hint that military action might be looming.

However analysts doubt the LNA is capable of launching a full-scale attack as it has stretched itself with the southern advance and it also relies on tribesmen and other auxiliary forces.

Some diplomats say the advance is mainly a psychological campaign to pressure Serraj into a power-sharing deal on eastern terms, allowing Haftar to become commander of a national army.

The confrontation is a major setback for the U.N and Western countries which have been trying to mediate between Serraj and Haftar.

This comes just days after the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, concluded a two-day working visit to Libya, where he met with al-Sarraj in Tripoli and Haftar in Benghazi to discuss means to peace and reconciliation.

Thursday Guterres condemned the move by Haftar forces, tweeting: “I am deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation. There is no military solution. Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems. I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country.”

Some of Haftar’s supporters have called the U.N. efforts a waste of time, urging him to carry out a military solution to establish himself as national army commander.