by WorldTribune Staff, February 10, 2017
Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked an air base in central Libya on Feb. 9 while two other rival factions battled in the capital Tripoli.
The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) that was installed last year has struggled to assert its authority over the various armed groups in the oil-producing nation.
The LNA’s offensive on Feb. 9 against rival brigades at an air base in the central region of Jufra killed at least two people and wounded 13, an LNA spokesman and a medical source told Reuters.
Haftar’s eastern-based force accused its rivals in the Jufra area of trying to attack Mediterranean coastal oil ports that the LNA took control of last September.
LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said the Feb. 9 strike was aimed at “immobilizing the enemy before an expected attack on the ports.”
The LNA has been extending its control to the west and has threatened to march on Tripoli. Haftar, who is aligned with a self-styled government based in Tobruk, has opposed the GNA.
European diplomats are reportedly engaged in a last-ditch effort to dissuade Russia from helping the Haftar seize overall military power in Libya. The EU is instead hoping Russia – possibly in alliance with the U.S. – will seek to persuade Haftar to settle for an enhanced military role, but under civilian command, and inside GNA.
In Tripoli, many armed groups remain loyal to a third, self-declared government led by Khalifa Ghwell.
In the latest challenge to the GNA, Mahmoud Zagal, a military commander allied to Ghwell, announced on Feb. 9 the formation of the “National Guards”, which he said would be used to secure state institutions and diplomatic missions.
Zagal’s force arrived in Tripoli on Feb. 8 from Misrata in a convoy of several dozen vehicles, triggering heavy clashes with an armed group loyal to the GNA in the southern districts of Salaheddin and Abu Salim.
Reports indicated tanks and heavy mortar were being used in the clashes. Eyewitnesses reported the increasing spread of checkpoints in the affected areas.
“The shooting hasn’t stopped since the early afternoon. We don’t dare go out to see what’s happening,” a local resident told the Libya Herald.