Libya's UN-backed forces retake control strategic Haftar base near Tripoli

Libya's UN-backed forces retake control strategic Haftar base near Tripoli
The GNA have taken back control of Gharyan, capturing alleged Chadian mercenaries, in a bid to repel Haftar's offensive to seize control of the capital.
3 min read
27 June, 2019
Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord fire on pro-Haftar forces neat Tripoli [Getty]
Libya's UN-backed government have recaptured the strategic town of Gharyan, near Tripoli, a government spokesman said on Thursday. 

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has been battling rival forces under the control of rogue General Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive to take the capital three months ago.

Gharyan, located some 100km from Tripoli, has been a vital base for Haftar's forces, serving as a key supply route and headquarters. 

The GNA spokesperson, Mohammed Gnono, told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that all of the town had been secured, adding that the chances of Haftar's side taking back control of Gharyan were highly unlikely.

In April, Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) from eastern Libya and loyal to a rival, east-based government, launched the offensive on Tripoli, setting off fierce fighting that has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Gnono told the Associated Press that an unspecified number of locals from the town's population had collaborated with the government forces to ensure "the success of the operation".

A statement from the government forces late Wednesday first announced the fall of Gharyan, saying they will pursue their campaign to push back Hafter "until the aggressors are purged from all areas".

Images were circulated of LNA fighters captured in the GNA offensive. Pro-GNA sites also published a video showing captured Chadian pro-Haftar fighters, which adds substance to claims the general has been using mercenaries in their operations.

Photographs also appeared of the GNA inspecting a number of drone airplanes seized from the LNA base in Gharyan.

UN experts said in a confidential report in May that missiles fired at pro-Tripoli forces in April pointed to a likely drone attack that could involve a "third party", possibly the Haftar backer the UAE.

Haftar's offensive on Tripoli has been widely criticised by the UN and aid agencies. Hundreds have been killed so far in the violence, mainly combatants but also civilians, and thousands have been displaced. Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the toll of the fighting around Tripoli had reached 739 killed and 4,407 wounded.

Haftar, backed by fellow strong-armed regimes in the region including Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, claims the push on Tripoli seeks to free the city of radical militias.

In return, the UN-backed government accuses Haftar of trying to establish a one-man military dictatorship.

Later Thursday, The Libyan National Army posted a statement on Facebook denying their rivals were in full control of Gharyan and claiming there was still some fighting underway.

"We faced treason from certain people" in the town, General al-Mabrouk al-Ghazawy was quoted as saying about the LNA's losses.

Libya sunk into chaos after Gaddafi's ouster and is now divided between two administrations - the weak UN-backed government in Tripoli and a rival, east-based government that has Haftar's forces on its side - and an array of militias affiliated with either side and fighting over territory.

Haftar's campaign against Islamic militants across Libya in recent years won him growing international support from world leaders who say they are concerned the North African country has turned into a haven for armed groups, and a major conduit for migrants bound for Europe.

Agencies contributed to this report.