Warlord Khalifa Haftar is losing Libyan territories after launching fresh attacks on Tripoli, while his rival, the UN-backed government, gained crucial support from the US and UK.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus, Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar has been losing the territories occupied by his forces and his chances of toppling the UN-backed government have diminished to the point that he’s venting his frustrations on civilians.
In the past few weeks, Haftars forces have engaged in brazen violence against civilians, killing dozens of them with rocket and mortar attacks in Tripoli.
Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has taken Tarhouna, the warlord Haftar’s key stronghold, and advanced to the southeast of Tripoli with the help of airstrikes carried out on the Al Watiya airbase in western Libya, which is mostly controlled by Haftar’s militias.
Regional experts say that since the GNA signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkey in November last year, the UN-backed government has felt encouraged to reverse Haftar’s military gains in the country.
“With Turkey’s help, the GNA is able to resist Haftar’s massive offensives,” Talha Kose, who is the chair and an Associate Professor of Political Sciences at Ibn Haldun University, told TRT World.
“Now Haftar’s supporters, the UAE, Egypt and Russian mercenary groups, are struggling to deal with the changing power balance on the ground after Turkey’s support to the GNA.”
The GNA launched ‘Operation Peace Storm’ on March 25. The aim was to remove the Tripoli blockade led by warlord Haftar’s self-styled army and his ragtag militias.
In yet another snub to Haftar, the UK government confirmed its support to the GNA last week, saying that it “stands by the legitimate government’s side, and supports the ceasefire implementation efforts”.
Osama al Juwaili, the general who is the head of GNA’s joint operations, recently said in an interview that the Tripoli standoff would end soon with the departure of Haftar’s forces.
According to Kose, the GNA’s recent territorial gains came after Haftar’s new offensive in February, which was in clear violation of his commitment to the international community to halt the fighting and stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The GNA launched a counterattack to push the enemy forces away from Tripoli, where the UN-backed Libyan government is dealing with the pandemic.
“Turkey therefore had to support the GNA as a part of its MoU,” Kose said, adding that the Turkish drones are also challenging the air superiority of Haftar, pinning his ground forces down and pushing them on the back foot.
Haftar mostly relied on the Chinese-made Wing Loong drones that are reportedly operated by the UAE, but Turkish armed Bayraktar, which recently inflicted serious damage to the forces of Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad in northern Syria, are now increasingly dominating the Libyan skies.
As the UAE has been rigid in supporting Haftar, Kose said the Gulf state is likely to continue its anti-GNA policy, despite the Libyan warlord losing several key territories in the recent past.
According to the Middle East Eye (MEE), the UAE is playing dirty with its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) making desperate attempts to bribe the Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad into breaking a ceasefire with Turkish-backed rebels in Idlib province. MBZ reportedly offered a $3 billion bribe to Assad. The deal couldn’t materialise as Russia was quick to undermine it, according to the MEE.
“The UAE will not give up on Tripoli. They will keep supporting Haftar as they have been in negotiations with the Syrian regime and Russia to make things difficult for the GNA,” Kose said.
But the role of Italy and France could be decisive in the future, Kose said, especially in light of Turkey providing humanitarian aid and medical support to Italy during its worst days of the pandemic.
“If at all Italy and France take a different stance, it won’t reflect on the Libyan situation directly. It would be based on economic calculations since Covid-19 is having a negative impact on their economies.”