Haftar launches ground attack to retake Libyan oil terminals

Haftar launches ground attack to retake Libyan oil terminals
The Libyan National Army launched a ground forces assault to retake the Ras Lanuf oil terminal from a group of Islamists on Tuesday morning.
3 min read
14 March, 2017
General Haftar sent a close adviser to Moscow on Monday to ask for assistance [Facebook]
General Haftar's East Libyan forces launched a major offensive to retake the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals on Tuesday morning.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an attack by ground-forces on the oil crescent port following days of sustained airstrikes.

"Ground, sea and air forces launched joint attacks to liberate Ras Lanuf from terrorist groups," Khalifa al-Abidi, an LNA spokesperson, said.

The oil crescent terminals - a vital source of revenue required to pay fighters' salaries - were originally captured by the Islamist militia, Benghazi Defence Brigades, from the LNA on March 3.

The west Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) has denied any involvement in the Islamist militia's capture of the oil terminals.

Haftar responded with repeated airstrikes against the fighters, but was incapable of immediately dispatching fighters to retake the ports as his army is currently overstretching its capability in Benghazi.

The East Libyan leader, who has been repeatedly accused of committing war crimes, originally captured the oil terminals from the UN-backed Government of National Accord, in September 2016.

East Libyan representatives were dispatched to Moscow and Cairo on Monday to discuss military cooperation with Haftar's main allies - after his LNA forces had failed to retake the country's vital oil terminals in the past ten days.

Abd al-Basset al-Badri, Haftar's advisor, met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow on Monday to discuss Russian assistance in retaking the oil terminals.

Read More: Will Libya see Russia's next foreign intervention force?

A subsequent press release from the Russian Foreign Ministry discussed the need to implement "essential" action to end the "Libyan crisis".

Libyan agents
[Click to Expand] An explainer on the regional
powers in Libya

Egypt has reportedly closed the East Libyan government's embassy in Cairo recently - following on from international pressure for Haftar to sit down with his West Libyan counterparts and negotiate a future.

Abdullah al-Thinni, the country's interim Prime Minister, made an "urgent" visit to Cairo on Monday to "galvanise support" for the Libyan National Army (LNA) and discuss the situation in the oil crescent.

The fact that only Thinni was accepted in Cairo is allegedly a sign of how far relations between Haftar and Cairo have fallen.

Haftar received a poor reception in Cairo during his most recent two-day visit. Egyptian Defence Minister Sedki Sobhy refused to meet him and the Libya Herald also reports he was housed in a four-star hotel - as opposed to the usual five-star.

Instead of a trip to Cairo, Haftar met with members of the Obeid and Werfalla tribes, to discuss their continued alliance.

Haftar was only housed in a four-star hotel during a recent trip to Cairo - as opposed to the usual five-star treatment.

The LNA has been engaged in intensive fighting against Islamist fighters in Benghazi for the past two years. Although this campaign has been mostly successful, it has also led to a high loss of life and weaponry.

These dire conditions have led to the direct intervention of Moscow, who have sent weapons, including aging warplanes, to Haftar's forces.

Libya oil crescent map
[Click to Expand] A map of Libya's oil crescent

Russia is also allegedly sending trained mercenaries and special forces agents, a recent US report found.

The United States military chief in Africa warned the Senate last week that Haftar's main supporter, Russia, was trying to "do a Syria" in Libya, by directly intervening on the ground.

"Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who and what entity becomes in charge of the government inside Libya," General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of US Africa Command told the US Senate.

US officials also told Reuters on Tuesday that Russian commandos had been deployed to an Egyptian air field close to the Libyan border, but Russia has since strongly denied the reports, calling them a 'fabrication'.