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Libya: Haftar bans flights, boats from Turkey

Published: June 29, 2019
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Libya's renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar has banned commercial flights from Libya to Turkey and ordered his forces to attack Turkish ships and interests in the country, spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari has said.

Turkey supports Libya's United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli which retook Gharyan, a strategic town south of the capital, Tripoli, from Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA)forces on Wednesday.

"Orders have been given to the air force to target Turkish ships and boats in Libyan territorial waters," al-Mismari said on Friday, adding that "Turkish strategic sites, companies and projects belonging to the Turkish state (in Libya) are considered legitimate targets by the armed forces".

Al-Mismari said Turkish aircraft "provided air cover" and bombed LNA positions in the fight for Gharyan.

"All flights to and from Turkey are also stopped and any Turkish (nationals) on Libyan territory will be arrested," he said.

Turkey has supplied drones and trucks to forces allied to Tripoli Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, while the LNA has received support from FranceUnited Arab Emirates and Egypt, according to diplomats.

The LNA, which is allied to a parallel government in the east, has failed to take Tripoli but it has commanded air superiority. It has several times attacked Tripoli's functioning airport.

Haftar setback

The capture of Gharyan this week has been seen as a major setback for Haftar's forces and their campaign to capture the capital.

Al-Mismari said his forces had lost 43 soldiers in the battle over the town of Gharyan - the main forward base for the LNA under Haftar which has been fighting to take control of Tripoli for almost three months.

Ahmed Milad, a pro-government fighter told Al Jazeera: "We coordinated with our fellow fighters inside the city [Gharyan] along with the western region military command to set the incursion.

"It took us weeks, but the city fell into our hands in about seven hours."

Following the battle, government forces said they discovered a cache of American missiles at a captured LNA base in the city.

Speaking from Gharyan following the battle, Al Jazeera correspondent Mahmoud Abdelwahed said: "Government forces showed off dozens of US-made anti-tank missiles. They said [the weapons] were seized from Haftar's forces in Gharyan ... [and] were supplied by the UAE."

Markings on the missiles' shipping containers indicated that they were originally sold to the UAE, a US ally, in 2008.

Fear of retaliation

While life has slowly started to return to normal in Gharyan, locals fear Haftar may retaliate. 

"Some of Haftar's forces have retreated to the nearby town of Asabia, others to the city of Tarhouna," said Abdelwahed.

"But the situation in Gharyan remains tense as people worry that Haftar's warplanes could target government forces within the city."

The LNA still holds the town of Tarhouna southeast of Tripoli, its second main position in the campaign.

Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free the capital from militias which they blame for destabilising Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Haftar's critics accuse him of trying to seize power through force and deepening a conflict between factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.

His offensive has upended United Nations-led plans to stabilise Libya after years of conflict that have left the oil-rich nation divided and caused living standards to plummet.

Western powers have become increasingly concerned about the conflict as it risks disrupting oil production and prompting more migrants to leave for Italy and other parts of Europe by boat.

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The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) announced, via Facebook on Saturday, that it is preparing an operation to remove the forces of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar from around Tripoli. It also said it would seek to enforce security throughout Libya.

The pilot of a fighter jet shot down south of Tripoli by the Libyan National Army is allegedly a Portuguese fighting in Libya as a “mercenary,” Haftar’s forces claim, as photos of the captured pilot covered in blood emerge online. Photos posted on social media show a bloodied man in military-style clothes without any distinctive badges surrounded by forces said to be loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Hafter has open support from France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. The Trump administration is not interested to step into the mess. Hafter is an old CIA asset and if he takes control there is a good chance that the U.S. will have influence over him. As long as Libyan oil flows and keeps the global oil price down Trump will be happy. Russia is trying to stay in the background to not give the anti-Russian forces in Washington an excuse to intervene.

In a sharp reversal of longstanding US policy which recognizes only the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as the legitimate authority over Libya, the White House on Friday said President Trump spoke by phone this week to Benghazi based commander Kalifa Haftar, pledging support to the general and his Libyan National Army (LNA) as it lays siege to the capital.

The Libyan Army has launched a new military campaign to combat General Khalifa Haftar’s assault on the capital Tripoli, dubbed “Volcano of Rage”. Newly appointed spokesman for the Libyan Army Mohammed Gununu announced the move yesterday, stating that troops of the Government of National Accord (GNA) had already advanced on several fronts and captured many military vehicles from Haftar’s forces.

Libya remains a fractured land ever since the NATO-backed militant uprising ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. While British and French warplanes did most of the actual bombing, the US contribution was crucial to the war effort, with America providing things like intelligence gathering and air refueling.“We will continue to monitor conditions on the ground and assess the feasibility for renewed US military presence, as appropriate,” said Nate Herring, an AFRICOM spokesman.

Sunday, April 7, 2019 - Libya - From Ghaddafi To Hafter

Libya is back in the news as the so called Libyan National Army under General Hafter is moving to attack Tripoli. How did we get here?

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