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Libyan Civil War - 2019

Libya April 2019 In a surprise move on 04 April 2019, the General Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), west on what he called a "victorious march" on Tripoli. Libya's internationally recognised government in Tripoli declared a military alert after eastern forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar said they had moved towards the western part of the country. Haftar's advances came on the back of support by countries such as neighbouring Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia.

Haftar's estimated 25,000 troops are well trained and hardened after four years of fighting against 'terrorists'. Fighters led by General Khalifa Haftar have a well-documented record of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions of captured fighters, and arbitrary detention. Militias affiliated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and based in western Libya also have a record of abuses against civilians.

Haftar launched Operation Dignity in 2014 to "cleanse" the country of what he called "terrorist" militias. In July 2017, Haftar said his forces had seized Benghazi after a bloody three-year battle. in 2018, the LNA gained control of Derna, the last bastion of opposition against Haftar in the east of the country. Then in January 2019, he launched a new offensive into oil-rich Fezzan in Libya's south-west. The LNA made deals with the local tribes and overran the region without a major fight. Haftar's "ultimate goal when he went into Fezzan was to take Tripoli. All the money, diplomatic missions and most of the population is there - everything is concentrated in Tripoli.

In the vast, sparsely populated south, tribal rivalries spar for control of lucrative cross-border smuggling and human trafficking routes. Haftar’s advances in southern Libya were achieved by a strategy of outreach by buying out or forging shaky alliances with various tribal militias. Haftar’s expansions relied on co-opting new local forces into the LNA franchise in what the military equivalent of a Ponzi scheme. Keeping the LNA functional requires continuous expansion and income that is driven towards the operation’s core and leadership. Haftar's forces were overextended, his finances stretched, and if he was forced to fight, he may be more fragile than many realize.

The UN scrambled to mediate between Haftar and Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the GNA. The pair met in Abu Dhabi in February, and the UN said they had agreed to hold elections by the end of the year. In March, the UN's mission in Libya announced that a national conference would be held on April 14 to 16 to discuss a timetable for long-delayed elections and unify the country.

Tripoli Tripoli
A brief skirmish between Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces allied to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based administration, was reported on 03 April 2019 near a town south of the capital. The LNA's media center said that several units had headed "to the western region to cleanse it of the remaining terrorist groups". Its statement gave no details, but the area appears to be the coastal road linking the eastern city of Benghazi, the LNA's main base, with Tripoli in western Libya. Armed clashes took place near Tripoli as eastern forces loyal to Haftar continued their advance towards the city, which is controlled by the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and protected by an array of militias.

The LNA said they had taken control of the areas of Qasr ben Ghashir and Wadi al-Rabie on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, near the former Tripoli International Airport, closed since a city battle in 2014. Fathi Bashagha, the Tripoli interior minister, later told Ahrar TV his forces had retaken the old airport while there were clashes in the Qasr ben Ghashir area.

The Tripoli-allied militias mobilised for "war" by deploying troops and moving weapons from the coastal towns of Misrata and Zawiya to areas around the capital.

LNA forces failed to take a checkpoint about 30km west of the capital. They were pushed back by pro-GNA militiamen from the coastal town of Zawiya after a "short exchange of fire", AFP news agency reported. Traffic was flowing normally past the so-called Gate 27, which lies astride the coastal road to Tunisia, on Friday mornin. In another setback, forces allied to the GNA took 145 LNA fighters prisoner in Zawiya and 60 vehicles were confiscated, a commander told Reuters. An LNA source confirmed 128 had been captured.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres ended a mission in Libya with "heavy heart" amid mounting fears of a full-blown war after renegade General Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops to launch a military assault on the country's capital. "I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli," Guterres wrote after meeting Haftar in his stronghold, the eastern city of Benghazi. The UN Security Council called on Haftar's forces to "halt all military movements" after holding an emergency closed-door meeting.

Several governments and organisations have urged de-escalation, including those known to be Haftar's key backers such as France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The two countries, along with the UK, Italy and the United States, said in a joint statement on Friday that "military posturing and threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos". Russia, which has thrown its support behind Haftar in the past, distanced itself from the offensive. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, denied any support for Haftar and emphasised the need "to avoid actions that would lead to the resumption of bloodshed".

Russia wanted all the political forces in Libya to find an agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 06 April 2019 during a visit to Cairo. In a news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, Lavrov warned against foreign meddling in Libya. For his part, Egypt’s FM said that the Libyan crisis cannot be resolved through military means, but added that the security situation in the country had long been a source of worry.

The UN special envoy to Libya said that he was determined to hold Libya’s national conference on time despite ongoing fighting in the North African country. The United Nations is planning to hold a conference in the southwestern town of Ghadames from April 14 to 16 to discuss elections as a way out of the country’s eight-year-long conflict.

GNA officials told Al Jazeera they had taken "full control" of the airport just hours after the LNA said in a statement they were carrying out an operation to secure the site, which sits some 30km south of Tripoli. The facility has been abandoned since 2014, after suffering extensive damage during heavy fighting between rival armed groups. Its fall would be a largely symbolic development, even though the LNA said they planned to use the airport as a launching point for missions aimed at seizing key sites within the capital.

Forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar declared on 06 April 2019 a no-fly zone for combat aircraft in the Western Libya military zone, where it was mounting an offensive against Tripoli, the Al Arabiya TV channel reported citing the military.

Fighter jets targeted forces under the command of Haftar in a bid to halt his military assault on the capital. Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) said they had been targeted by an air strike, as fresh fighting flared south of Tripoli. LNA forces alleged they had been targeted by four air raids, including one in the al-Aziziya region, which sits about 50km south of the capital.

In response to Haftar's drive, the GNA has authorised air attacks against "any military activities by [LNA] forces trying to enter the capital". Haftar's spokesman, Ahmed al-Mesmari, said "Any jet fighter flying over Tripoli will not be allowed and will be targeted, the air base it came from will also be targeted". He added that no LNA troops were injured in the raids.

The area surrounding the airport and a clutch of other nearby neighborhoods were witnessing military deployments and sporadic fighting, accounting for one of four major confrontation zones. These areas are on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, near the western gate of Tripoli … and two major front lines in the west of Libya. Clashes could erupt in each of the locations "at any time.

Haftar's military spokesman, Col. Ahmad Almismari, told a press conference 06 April 2019 that forces under Haftar's command were gaining ground. He said Haftar's forces were in control of the towns of Gharyan, Jendouba, Qasr al-Beshir and Suwani. He said 14 soldiers fighting with the Libyan army had been killed in fighting. The spokesman said air force planes loyal to Haftar had launched at least four raids near the Bab al-Aziziya military compound south of the capital, but that there were no casualties. He said, however, that planes from the nearby town of Misrata, which opposes Haftar, had killed a number of civilians in a raid over the town of Ghariyan, which Haftar now controls.

The UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) made an "urgent appeal" for a two-hour truce in the southern suburbs to evacuate the wounded and civilians caught in the fighting. "[UNSMIL calls on] all armed parties in the Wadi Rabi area, Al-Kayekh, Gasr Ben Ghachir and Al-Aziziya to respect a humanitarian truce (between 14:00 and 16:00 GMT) to secure the evacuation of wounded and civilians by rescue teams and the Libyan Red Crescent".

The head of Libya's internationally recognised government accused Haftar of "betraying" him. Fayez al-Sarraj said Haftar would meet firm resistance from forces loyal to his United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). "We have extended our hands towards peace but after the aggression that has taken place on the part of forces belonging to Haftar and his declaration of war against our cities and our capital ... he will find nothing but strength and firmness," al-Sarraj said. He also warned of "a war without winners".

The army behind Libya's UN-backed government has announced a counteroffensive to defend Tripoli, vowing to reclaim all areas seized by forces loyal to Haftar. Colonel Mohamed Gnounou told reporters in Tripoli 14 April 2019 that the counteroffensive, dubbed "Volcano of Anger", was aimed at "purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces".

The US military said it had temporarily pulled some of its forces out of Libya amid the upsurge of fighting in the North African country. "Due to increased unrest in Libya, a contingent of US forces supporting US Africa Command temporarily relocated from the country in response to security conditions on the ground," it said in a statement.

Trump and Haftar spoke on 15 April 2019 "to discuss ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya," according to the White House press office. The statement said that Trump "recognised Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources." In their phone call, "the two discussed a shared vision for Libya's transition to a stable, democratic political system."

Libya's internationally recognised interior ministry on 18 April 2019 accused France of supporting eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and said it would halt cooperation with Paris. France however said it supports the Tripoli-based government. "Any dealings with the French side in bilateral security agreements" will halt, the Tripoli-based interior ministry said in a statement. Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha directed the head of the international relations and cooperation committee under the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) to cease all its bilateral activities and agreements (including security cooperation) due to France’s “relentless backing” of Haftar.

The UN health agency said 19 April 2019 at least 15 more people died in fighting over control of Libya's capital in the past two days, bringing the total to 220 dead including civilians. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that 1,066 others have been wounded since the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Haftar, launched an offensive on April 5 to take Tripoli.

Forces loyal to Libya's unity government said on 20 April 2019 they had launched a counter-attack against strongman Khalifa Haftar's fighters just south of the capital Tripoli. "We have launched a new phase of attack. Orders were given early this morning to advance and gain ground," said Mustafa al Mejii, a spokesman for the military operation of the Government of National Accord.

The late June 2019 territorial loss put militia leader Khalifa Haftar in a weak position. Haftar faced a surprise blow in Gharyan where his forces have held this territory south of Tripoli, since early April. Libya’s internationally recognised government have now managed to dislodge pro-Haftar militias from this strategically important town. Gharyan was the main forward base for the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA) under Khalifa Haftar, which has been eyeing control of Tripoli. The Libyan National Army (LNA) has only one town left in the west of Libya, Tarhunah, as a launching pad for their military campaign. Even so, he continues to enjoy political and logistical support from Egypt, UAE, France, Russia and others.

United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Turkey and Jordan - have violated the arms embargo imposed on Libya. A November 2019 report by the Panel of Experts of the International Sanctions Committee on Libya said that Sudan and its Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, did not abide by UN sanctions to ban military support to the parties involved in the Libyan conflict, noting that 1,000 Sudanese Rapid Support Forces were sent to eastern Libya in July. Hemeti sent Sudanese troops to Benghazi in order to enable the forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar to attack the capital Tripoli, the report added. A number of sources were quoted as saying that the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces were later stationed in al-Jufra, an area in southern Libya. The report also stated that the UAE violated the arms embargo by providing Haftar with an advanced air defence system that was installed at the al-Jufra base and near the city of Gharyan. It also provided him with a warship that was modified with guns and other offensive equipment.

Libya UAV strikeIn late December 2019 airstrikes by the LNA (with likely Chinese drones) destroy hangars used by GNA for Turkish drones in Libya. All four hangars were destroyed with the second round of airstrikes.

Turkey, which declared its support for the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), provided military equipment to its forces, from armored vehicles to unmanned aerial vehicles.

The GNA, with the support of armed groups from Misrata, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Tripoli, managed to hold off Haftar's troops, who have been trying to seize the capital since April. But while frontlines are stalemated, Haftar dominated the skies with Chinese-made Wing Loong drones supplied by his main backer the UAE. Turkey sent the GNA Bayraktar drones to counter those of Haftar's forces, but these were low-cost in comparison and many were destroyed. Reports said that on the ground, pro-Haftar forces have recently received support from contractors with Wagner -- a private military group believed to be controlled by an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russia denied sending mercenaries to fight in Libya. The GNA started to see the risk that Haftar was gaining the advantage.

Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar on 12 December 2019 ordered his forces to begin advancing toward Tripoli and said gunmen in the city would be provided with safety in exchange for laying down their arms. “The Libyan National Army is inevitably victorious in the Battle of Tripoli. We call on the units that are advancing toward Tripoli to abide by the rules of engagement. We call on the militants who are fighting our army to remain in their homes and they will be safe,” Haftar said in a televised address.

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Page last modified: 26-12-2019 18:24:18 ZULU