By Sami Zaptia.
London, 30 August 2019:
Interior Ministry spokesman of the Faiez Serraj-led Presidency Council and Government of National Accord insisted yesterday that the situation in the Western Nefousa Mountain City of Gharian were ‘‘under the military control of the (Tripoli-based) Libyan Army’s Joint Operations Room of the Government of National Accord’’ and the security components of the Ministry of Interior, primarily the Gharian Security Directorate.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, during a press statement read out at the media centre of the Prime Minister’s Office in Tripoli, said “We stand with pride and respect, to our sons and brother members of the Libyan army and the military and security support force, who defeated the legions of aggression and cleansed the city of Gharian from fragments of evil.”
He added that the battle is a battle between ‘‘right and wrong’’.
The Tripoli statement on Gharian comes on the back of two failed attempts within one week by the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) to recapture the city
On 20 August, LNA forces in Arban, between Gharian and Tarhuna, tried unsuccessfully to head towards Gharian via the Ghoat Al-Riah checkpoint south of the town.
A second attempt started on Sunday 25, when forces came from both Al-Asaba (south-west of Gharian) and again from Arban, supported by LNA airstrikes. However, it now seems that GNA reinforcements forced the LNA to retreat on Monday after two days of clashes. GNA forces also claimed to capture one of the LNA commanders, Brig. Fawzi Buhrara, previously head of the LNA’s Gharian operations room. Its reported he was captured not on the battlefield but hiding near Gharian.
There were reports of casualties on both sides. The GNA said it had lost 8 men. It reportedly killed a number of LNA fighters, but the latter does not generally disclose casualty figures.
Drone strikes have continued by both sides. LNA drones hit part of Gharian on Tuesday and according to the LNA, GNA drones hit Al-Asaba and allegedly killed four civilians.
On Sunday, the day before the LNA retreated, LNA media were celebrating the new Gharian offensive and talking of a “second axis” against the GNA being launched.
However, there are suggestions that neither of the two Gharian offensives were initially ordered by the LNA high command but were promoted by pro-LNA forces in the Gharian area which the LNA then had to support.
The failure of the two Gharian attacks by the LNA indicates their inability to make any serious inroads into territory defended by the pro-Tripoli forces and raises serious question marks about their abilities to make any progress in this war that they launched on 4 April in ‘‘liberating’’ Tripoli.
It raises questions about their military strategies, tactics and capabilities.
It will be recalled that the Khalifa Hafter LNA and their allied forces suffered a major set back on 26 June when the Tripoli forces pushed them out of Gharian. The attack had been supported by air strikes. The pro Hafter forces had been in control of the mountain city of Gharian since the eve of the launch by Hafter of the Tripoli attack on 4 April.
Climbing the steep and usually easily defendable road up to Gharian was a major success for the Tripoli forces and the Hafter forces have been on the back foot ever since.
For example, during Libya’s 2011 revolution the Qaddafi troops had difficulty ascending the road – which was successfully defended from the advantage of height by anti Qaddafi forces.
Gharian was a major strategic launch point for the pro Hafter forces and its road offers vital access to the south and centre of Libya. Its permanent loss has affect supply lines and the dynamics of the Tripoli fighting. It could be a game changer.
The Gharian loss also weakened the pro-Hafter forces concentrated down on the plane in and around the disused Tripoli International Airport, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.