The political and military facedown drags on in the vicinity of Tripoli between the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the forces fighting under the banner of the Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj.
On 4 April, Haftar launched a military operation to free the capital from extremist militias that have controlled the capital for several years and that he says are allied with the GNA.
The international community remains divided over the crisis and, as a result, the UN Security Council has been unable to pass a resolution calling for a halt to the military hostilities that derailed a peace-making drive led by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) under the leadership of UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame.
Over the weekend, LNA command announced that its forces had achieved progress on the ground in south and southeast Libya, bringing them closer to the centre of the capital.
It also confirmed that it had destroyed two Turkish drones at Mtiga Airport, claiming that GNA forces had been using the drones to strike LNA positions on the outskirts of Tripoli as well as targets in Gharian (100 kilometres south of the capital) and Tarhouna (90 kilometres southeast of the capital). Both places are strategic sites near the capital.
The LNA Airforce Operations Room cautioned against the use of Mtiga, a civilian airport east of Tripoli, for military purposes and activities, and stressed that the LNA is determined to prevent civil facilities from being used for any purposes other than those intended to serve the public.
Major General Idris Madi, commander of the LNA’s western region, announced Sunday that forces under his command had scored advances in the vicinity of the airport road and Al-Sawani, on the southern outskirts of the capital. With coverage from LNA aircraft, he said, LNA forces managed to wreak considerable attrition on the militias.
However, he added: “The militias are now trying to hold on to as many positions as they can while waiting for a peaceful solution or dialogue.”
Major General Madi added that officials in Misrata have contacted the LNA in the hope of securing guarantees that its militias would be spared from attack if they withdrew from the battle.
Sources close to the LNA general command told Al-Ahram Weekly that these communications are still in their early phases and that countries such as France, the UAE and Egypt encourage rapprochement between Misrata and the LNA command, headed by Haftar.
The Misrata Municipal Council denied Madi’s claims. On its Facebook page Sunday, it described them as “rumours” and stated that “No person of an official or social capacity or any other capacity charged by us or by the Misrata Assembly of Dignitaries has engaged in any communication with the accursed so-called Operation Dignity forces or with the war criminal Haftar.”
The statement added that Misrata was still “working in coordination with the legitimate party as represented in the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord”.
Since April, LNA forces have occupied advance positions in the southern and southeast outskirts of the capital. They also control strategic locations that serve as platforms for operations and supply lines to the forces in the theatre of operations which extends in an approximately 150 km-long-arc south and southeast of the capital.
The main contingent of LNA’s advanced forces are deployed along the Qasr bin Ghashir-Khallat Al-Farjan axis. While GNA forces have succeeded in repelling LNA advances towards the capital and surprise attacks, they have not managed to push LNA forces to retreat from their positions.
Both sides have availed themselves of a broad range of weaponry, including light military aircraft and especially drones, which confirms that both sides still receive military support from foreign allies.
GNA forces have recently received a package of military aid from Turkey that included armoured vehicles and drones. Social networking sites of Libyan activists show images of these vehicles as they were being unloaded in the port of Tripoli.
The images are accompanied by comments to the effect that the weapons will be sent to the front to intercept the assault against the capital.
LNA command has accused Turkey and Qatar of arming and funding the militias that have controlled Tripoli for years and appealed to the international community to halt Qatari and Turkish interference in Libya’s domestic affairs.
LNA command also called on the international community to lift the arms embargo on the LNA to enable it to secure control over the country’s far-flung territory, fight terrorist and extremist groups and illegal migration, defend Libyan institutions and secure national resources and oil and gas rights.
The GNA denies the accusations. It charges LNA commander Haftar with starting the offensive against the capital and claims that the militias fighting under the GNA umbrella are defending the civil character of the state.
On the diplomatic front, Ghassan Salamé has just returned to Libya from a tour of the US, France, Russia and Italy in order to mobilise international support for the UN-sponsored political process.
Salamé is eager to rally a consensus among the great powers over the military escalation around the capital that interrupted plans for a comprehensive National Conference that was due to convene in April.
The purpose of the envisioned conference was to reach a new political accord that would enable the reunification of bifurcated government institutions and to produce a new consensual roadmap for the remainder of the interim phase.
Upon his return to Libya, the UN envoy appealed for an urgent humanitarian truce and called for additional relief for the thousands of people driven from their homes as a result of more than 60 days of hostilities in the vicinity of the Libyan capital.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Tripoli standoff