By Maha Ellawati and Sami Zaptia.
Benghazi and London, 4 April 2019:
Speaking to Libya Herald’s eastern Libya reporter today, Libyan National Army (LNA) Spokesperson Ahmed Mesmari, asserted that the city of Gharian was entered by LNA (aligned) forces peacefully and welcomed by local residents.
He said that the LNA forces had earlier passed directly through Mizda, Nessma, Al-Asabaa, Algawasim and some other cities, without any resistance. He stressed that these military manoeuvres had come only after a high level of coordination with the region’s residents, military and officers in the western region.
It is worth noting, however, that there have been unconfirmed media reports of at least one death near Al-Asabaa as a result of clashes with LNA forces during this military drive.
Equally, while the LNA says it has entered Gharian, the term ‘‘entering’’ Gharian is a relative and vague term. There are independent reports that confirm that while there is no doubt that there is LNA ‘‘presence’’ and allegiance to the LNA and Khalifa Hafter in Gharian, the LNA by no means totally controls or dominates Gharian. Some insist that the LNA forces simply paraded on the outskirts of the Western Nefusa Mountains city.
This tactic of paying a flying visit to and through towns and cities is a favourite and easy tactic used by the LNA and its allied forces to project territorial expansion and ‘‘control’’. It very often takes advantage of a security presence vacuum especially in outlying areas where no other competing forces are present – or are frankly bothered to make a presence. The tactic was used very widely and successfully in the south during the February and March campaign by the LNA.
Encouraged to comment about the possible role of the city of Misrata and its possible resistance to LNA forces entering Tripoli ‘‘peacefully’’, Mesmari would only say ambiguously that the LNA ‘‘have now gone beyond’’ Misrata. He added that the LNA’s mission is ‘‘to clean Tripoli from the terrorists’’.
It is not exactly clear what Mesmari meant by ”going beyond” Misrata, and weather this is a geographic and logistic reference or a political reference. It raises the question of weather some Misrata forces had come to some agreement with the LNA over entering Tripoli. It could ultimately be no more than military bravado by Mismari made more in hope than based on fact. Time will tell.
Mesmari would not reveal what the LNA was planning to do next, adding that ‘‘the next goal will be announced when it is determined’’. He did confirm that these LNA operations are led by Abdulsalam al-Hassi, the commander of the Western Region Operations Room, who was commissioned by Khalifa Haftar on the 25 March.
With regards to the anti-LNA and Hafter statements made by the Mayor of Gharian Municipality, Mesmari said it was clear to them that he had ‘‘Muslim Brotherhood directives’’ and ‘‘takes instructions from the Tripoli government’’.
On the forthcoming Ghadames National Conference (@multaqa.libya) to be held from 14-16 April, Mesmari refused to comment on who was and who was not invited to the event. He did, however, confirm that if the people wanted the LNA to attend they would attend, and if the Libyans did not want the LNA to attend, they would not. The LNA are only there to fulfil the commands of the Libyan people, he added.