Misrata’s Third Force commander vows to stay in south as LNA orders it out
By Libya Herald reporters.
Tripoli/Tunis, 29 December 2016:
The head of Misrata’s Third Force based in Sebha, Jamal Treiki, has spurned a demand from the Khalifa Hafter’s Libyan National Army (LNA) that it withdraw from the south.
Earlier this week, the LNA’s Colonel Mohamed Ben Nayel said that the Third Force, first sent to Sebha to try and keep the peace there three years ago, had to evacuate the entire region.
The demand followed Nayel’s peaceful takeover three weeks ago of the Brak Al-Shatti airbase from the Third Force, which had effectively given it up.
Just two days ago, however, there was fighting at the Gwirat Al-Maal checkpoint 17 kilometres north of Sebha as Nayel’s men, said to be a mix of Magarha and Qaddadfa members plus Tebus and members of Sudan’s Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement, tried to seize it from the Third Force.
Both sides currently claim to hold it.
The checkpoint is important as it is just a few kilometres from Tamenhint airbase.
There are fears of an impending LNA operation to smash the Third Force in the south carried out in tandem with an attack on the strategically important Jufra airbase, 330 kilometres to the north and also held by the Misratans.
For many years during the Qaddafi era Jufra was the country’s main military base. It can control all movement east, south and west.
Following Monday’s airstrike on the airbase by LNA planes, the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard loyal to Hafter in Sidra reportedly then warned that there would be a fresh attack on it, but that locals in nearby Hun and Waddan need not be afraid; the land offensive would target only “terrorists”. This was seen as referring to the members of the Benghazi Defence Brigades and Benghazi Revolutionaries Shoura Council, stationed at the base.
It is thought that the LNA strategy is to overstretch Misratan forces by launching simultaneous attacks on the base, in the south around Tamenhint and Sebha, and in ensuring problems in Tripoli as well
“Nayel cannot handle it [taking Tamenhint] by himself,” a leading Libyan political analyst said. He can attack but would then have to run away. But if there were an attack at Jufra at same time, the Misratans would not be able to defend both places.”
He also pointed out that there had been a massive build-up of LNA men and equipment at the south-western airbase at Wattiya.
“Whoever takes Jufra will be able to control the country,” he added.