Libyan government forces recaptured Tripoli airport ~ #AFP:
“Our forces have fully liberated Tripoli international airport”, which has been out of service since 2014, said the spokesman for the forces loyal to the Government of National Union (GNA), Mohamad Gnounou, in a press release.
In April 2019, the forces of Marshal Haftar, a strong man from the East, launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli, where the GNA sits, in the midst of a power struggle in this oil country plunged into chaos since the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Destroyed in 2014 by fighting between rival militias, the civilian airport, the largest in the country, is located about 20 kilometers south of the capital. It is of strategic importance since it constitutes the southern gateway to Tripoli: a wide straight road connects it to the city center.
The airport has been occupied by pro-Haftar forces since the first weeks of their offensive against Tripoli.
The operation for its recovery began in the morning, with drones that targeted the positions of rival forces, according to Mr. Gnounou. The pro-GNA “are now chasing Haftar’s militias who are fleeing to Gasr Ben Gachir”, further south.
For the past two weeks, pro-government forces have been conducting large-scale ground and air attacks in this area and had successfully surrounded the airport area before the final assault.
First images and videos relayed on social networks and by local television channels showed the entry of pro-GNA forces on the site.
– Interference –
Forces loyal to Marshal Haftar did not immediately respond to this announcement.
In May, they lost Al-Watiya air base, a major rear base at Camp Haftar, 140 kilometers southwest of Tripoli.
After a long standstill, GNA troops, backed by growing support from the Turkish ally, have had several successes in recent months.
Over the past year, the conflict has been exacerbated by increasing foreign interference, with the United Arab Emirates and Russia supporting Camp Haftar.
Unused since its destruction in 2014 in battles between rival militias, the international airport had been replaced by that of Mitiga, a former military base in the eastern suburbs of the capital, which in turn was closed in March, damaged by rocket fire.
The few Libyans repatriated from abroad due to the Covid-19 pandemic land at Misrata airport, 200 kilometers east of Tripoli.
The GNA controls almost all of the west, including the capital. It is locally supported by armed groups from the west, mainly those from Misrata.
Marshal Haftar controls, in addition to the east of the country, a part of the south of the territory, as well as most of the oil fields and terminals blocked by his forces since the beginning of 2020. He is supported locally by the tribes of Cyrenaica (eastern part ).
Since April 2019, hundreds of people, including many civilians, have been killed in the fighting and some 200,000 have fled.
– Resumption of talks –
The new setback comes shortly after the UN in New York announced the resumption of talks on Wednesday with belligerent Libyans, welcoming a “positive first step” after a suspension of more than three months.
The acting UN envoy, the American Stephanie Williams, had a meeting by videoconference with “the five members of the delegation” loyal to Khalifa Haftar, said the spokesman of the UN. “A meeting with the GNA delegation is planned in the coming days.”
“Negotiations will continue on a ceasefire agreement (…),” he continued.
In Paris, the French presidency said it feared that Turkey and Russia would get along “on their terms” to the detriment of Libya’s stability. “We see the significant risk of a fait accompli at the borders of Europe, which exposes our security,” added the Elysée. France, although it publicly denies it, is suspected of having bet on General Haftar.