Marshal Haftar Continues His Advance! Libyan National Army Troops Take Control of Tripoli Airport
It was reported at about 3 AM on Saturday, April 6th, that the Libyan National Army, led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar, had taken complete control of the capital's international airport in Tripoli. Today, Marshal Haftar's Libyan National Army air forces launched the first airstrike against government troops on the outskirts of Tripoli. The counter-offensive conducted by Saraj to protect Tripoli failed. There's no exact data about the victims. Anyway, there are dozens of people dead on both sides. Haftar's goal is to take control of the capital and thus unite the country.
Until now, there has been a dual power in Libya. It's Prime Minister Faiz Saraj who has ruled in the capital with the support of Western countries, while the western part of the country has been under the control of Marshal Haftar. The country split into parts after the NATO aggression in 2011, when French and British aircraft bombed the country and rebels killed the long-time leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Before the aggression, Libya was a prosperous country and controlled North Africa on its meridian up to Chad. But Gaddafi made a mistake that Russian thieves-in-law never made: he loaned a lot of money. By the unwritten criminal rules, in such a case, they'll put a hit out on you so as to not give the money back. Actually, that's what happened to Gaddafi. He invested in French President Sarkozy's election campaign, hoping to reap the benefits, let's say, from some favors. But when that didn't happen, and Gaddafi had the imprudence to remind of the «debt», so to speak, then France under Sarkozy, backed by the USA and England, inspired the war and the murder of Gaddafi. Of course, it was presented as a struggle for democracy.
And now what? Marshal Haftar controls part of the territory. He studied in Russia and speaks Russian. He was aboard our Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier for a conversation with Shoigu at the beginning of the year before last. Haftar has a special relationship with Egyptian President General El-Sisi, which is his game-changing asset. The rest of Libya is bad. An ISIS gang is still operating there as well as slave traders camps. Everybody remembers those reports.
Well, Yevgeny Poddubny has some details on Libya.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar seems to have decided to unite Libya. The commander-in-chief of the National Army unleashed the war with Tripoli, formally to save the capital's population from terrorist and criminal gangs operating in the city and on its outskirts, but, in fact, to consolidate power. Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, there has been no single control center in Libya, with several factions holding sway. The country's west, with its capital in Tripoli, has been controlled by the Government of National Accord established under the auspices of the UN in December 2015 and headed by Prime Minister Faiz Saraj. It's backed by Western countries, as well as Turkey and Qatar. As for the east and partly the south of the country, it's Libya’s House of Representatives, elected in 2014, that's ruling there. It's sometimes referred to as the «Tobruk government.» This government is backed by the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar whose allies are the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
So who is Marshal Khalifa Haftar? He's a military man and revolutionary with a difficult fate; Muammar Gaddafi's once closest supporter. In 1969, then a student at the Benghazi Military Academy, he took an active part in the overthrow of the king of Libya. He was then a member of the Revolutionary Command Council. Gaddafi spoke about Haftar: «He was my son. And I was like a father to him». Khalifa Haftar studied in the USSR. In 1978, he graduated from the Vystrel senior officer course. In 1983 he attended the Frunze Academy. In the late 80s, Khalifa Haftar was captured in an armed conflict between Libya and Chad. Muammar Gaddafi abandoned his general, and Haftar was no longer the colonel's best friend, but his worst enemy. In Chad, Khalifa Haftar established contact with the CIA and moved to the US for 20 years. He returned to Libya during the war to oust the former ally. Gaddafi was brutally murdered, while Haftar, over the past eight years, has received the post of commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army, which supports the House of Representatives and opposes the National Accord government.
Field Marshal Haftar is enjoying the active support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Well, at least, Haftar's opponents say that it's these countries that provide the Libyan National Army with weapons. Moreover, the Western media has been increasingly calling Haftar the «Libyan Al-Sisi», hinting that the Libyan marshal is ready to take the Egyptian president's road to power. Khalifa Haftar is also looking at Moscow. In the summer of 2016, the marshal visited the Russian capital for the first time; in the autumn of 2016, he met with the Defense and Foreign Ministers of Russia; and on January 11th, 2017, the commander-in-chief of the LNA visited the Admiral Kuznetsov heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser to hold a video call with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
But certainly, it wasn't Moscow that pushed Haftar to attack Tripoli. The reaction of the Russian Foreign Ministry suggests that. On Saturday, Sergey Lavrov said that Russia supported all of the political forces in Libya and that the parties to the conflict were to reach an agreement without any external influence.
Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister: «We all must call on the Libyans to stop any offensives, all military actions, and to come to the negotiating table».
By the way, Field Marshal Haftar has already refused to meet with his opponent, leader of the National Accord government, Prime Minister Saraj. Apparently, the Libyan National Army commander-in-chief believes that he will be able to quickly take Tripoli. And Haftar's self-assurance isn't unfounded. To date, the Libyan National Army has about 100,000 people, which is the most important consolidated force in the country. In addition, the LNA has managed to free the southern areas from radical Islamists and secure oil fields. Now, Haftar’s forces control most of the country not only in terms of territory but also economically. And this is yet another argument that allowed the marshal to attack Tripoli.
For the first few days, the LNA troops advanced almost unhindered. The army had managed to take control of three cities by last Friday. These are Sabratha and Surman, which are about 40 miles to the west of the capital, and Gharyan, which is about 60 miles to the south of Tripoli. Actually, in his address before the offensive at the capital was launched, Haftar called to not interfere with the actions of the Libyan National Army and thus avoiding bloodshed. That is, in fact, he shifted responsibility for the escalation of the conflict to Prime Minister Saraj.
For the field marshal himself, to avoid a large escalation is no less important than to take the capital. The goal is not a new round of civil war, but an attempt to form state institutions that can truly control Libya and create conditions for a political process that, for the first time in eight years, will form a legitimate government.
Yevgeny Poddubny for Vesti — the News of the Week.