By Sami Zaptia.
London, 26 May 2020:
The so-called strategic retreat announced by the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army and its allied local and foreign forces over the last week is looking increasingly like a full scale retreat as the forces allied with the internationally recognized Libyan government continued their advances towards Tarhuna and the Western mountains.
The withdrawal/retreat comes on the back of Hafter’s loss of the Witya airbase on 18 May. The base had been under pro-Hafter forces since 2014. It was a huge morale victory for Tripoli – and a morale-depleting defeat for Hafter’s forces.
The loss of the airbase also comes on the back of the loss of Gharian in June last year and Sabratha, Surman and the western coastal region in April this year. It sets a trend and gives the impression that Hafter is losing momentum and on the retreat – and especially since Turkey’s intervention on the side of Tripoli and imposition of air dominance. It also raises questions of whether Hafter’s allies are reducing their support for him as part of larger geostrategic deals.
Hafter’s forces are all but out of the Western mountains and are struggling to keep strategic supply crossroads around Tarhuna and towards the central Libya Jufra airbase. Tripoli has given Hafter’s forces 48 hours to retreat to beyond Tarhuna. Turkish airpower has been instrumental in Hafter’s retreat – combined with a failure/refusal – so far – by his allies to escalate aerial intervention to the Turkish level.
Hafter’s retreat has been compounded by the optics of Wagner forces – estimated at 1,500 by the city’s Mayor – making a hasty exit from Bani Walid airport. Tripoli claims 15 planes landed in the city to evacuate them. It was noted that Turkish drones and Tripoli’s forces did not attempt to fire on them while they escaped.
Videos and photos of the newly liberated frontline areas in southern Tripoli have revealed much destruction of civilian areas and booby traps (IEDs) that have already led to the death of a number of fighters and civilians venturing prematurely into the areas. UNSMIL has condemned the use of booby-traps in civilian areas.
Hafter’s forces have lost a number of barracks in southern Libya, but are still in Gaser Ben Ghashir and the old Airport. Today, live shelling of Tripoli could still be heard by Libya Herald live during a phone call to the capital.
For what it is worth, Hafter’s forces had announced a unilateral ‘‘humanitarian Ramadan’’ ceasefire. They never kept to it and Tripoli, emboldened by Turkish backing, rejected it. Hafter’s forces have promised to hit back strongly after Eid – which ends today. They claim they had reserviced four old Mig fighters. AFRICOM today accused Russia of supplying these fighter jets via Syria – in contravention of UN Security Council Libya arms embargo.
Now that the forces defending Tripoli have forward momentum, the international community is suddenly pushing hard for a ceasefire – which the anti-Hafter camp is viewing with disdain and seen as utter political duplicity by the international community.
UNSMIL condemns use of booby-traps (IEDs) in Tripoli civilian areas recently vacated by Hafter’s forces
Tripoli aligned forces recapture western cities of Sabratha and Surman from pro Hafter forces
More indiscriminate bombing of Tripoli civilian sites and hospitals injuring 14 civilians: Tripoli Health Ministry
Williams to UNSC: Foreign interference, increased military build-up and mercenary arrivals continue on both sides