By Sami Zaptia.
London, 4 June 2020:
Libya’s internationally recognized government based in Tripoli and led by Faiez Serraj claimed to have liberated all of Greater Tripoli from Hafter’s forces late last night. Serraj congratulated his aligned forces in a telephone interview (believed to be made from Turkey) on a local radio station.
The liberation announcement comes after footage continued to appear on social media yesterday of the Tripoli defending forces within the disused Tripoli International Airport. Tripoli reports that Hafter’s forces are on the retreat towards the nearby city of Gaser Ben Ghashir.
If the military gains on the ground are confirmed and held, this would constitute another huge symbolic victory for the forces defending Tripoli – and another symbolic and psychological defeat for Hafter’s forces. The recapture of the disused Tripoli International Airport would be as important as the recapture of Al Witya airbase. It would reinforce the narrative that Hafter’s forces are on the defensive and on a general retreat.
It will be recalled that Hafter has generally been on the offensive and has been attempting to capture Tripoli since 4 April 2019. The intervention of Turkey with airpower on the side of Tripoli seems to have tilted the balance on the battlefield.
Hafter’s forces have now been on the retreat in western Libya since the loss of the coastal towns of Surman and Sabrata in April, and more recently the loss of the strategic Witya airbase. His forces are on the defensive attempting to hold on to a couple more locations in and around the Western mountains – with their last stronghold Tarhuna now looking increasingly vulnerable.
There has been frantic multilateral diplomatic activity in the form of meetings and telephone calls regarding Libya over the last week. It will also be recalled that on 1 June UNSMIL had welcomed
the acceptance by Libya’s internationally recognized government and the Hafter led Libyan National Army (LNA) of the resumption of talks on ‘‘the ceasefire and associated security arrangements based on the draft agreement submitted by UNSMIL to the parties during the Joint Military Commission talks (5 + 5) (JMC) on 23 February 2020’’.
These military talks are a separate strand to the UNSMIL-brokered political and economic talks.
Domestically, the ‘‘liberation of all of Tripoli’’ comes on the back of indiscriminate shelling on a park in central Tripoli killing 5 and injuring 12 civilians on 31 May. Pushing Hafter’s forces outside of the Tripoli administrative boundaries will greatly reduce the likelihood of more shelling falling on residential Tripoli.
Tripoli’s ”liberation” also comes on the back of the Tripoli government stating to French media that it will not stop fighting until all Libya is ‘‘liberated” from Hafter’s forces and that it will not negotiate with Hafter as it sees him as an ‘‘obstacle” to peace.
Internationally recognized Libyan government seeks to control ‘‘all’’ Libyan territory, will not negotiate with ‘‘obstacle’’ Hafter