Libyan govt retakes Haftar’s last redoubt in west

Updated Jun 06 2020

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“Our heroic forces have extended their control over the whole of Tarhuna,” says GNA spokesman Mohamad Gnounou. — AFP/File
“Our heroic forces have extended their control over the whole of Tarhuna,” says GNA spokesman Mohamad Gnounou. — AFP/File

TARHUNA: Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-recognised government celebrated another victory against rival strongman Khalifa Haftar on Friday after overrunning his last western stronghold, launchpad of an abortive 14-month assault on Tripoli.

The recapture of Tarhuna southeast of the capital capped a week that already saw the Government of National Accord (GNA) reestablish control over the whole of Greater Tripoli with Turkish military support. “Our heroic forces have extended their control over the whole of Tarhuna,” said GNA spokesman Mohamad Gnounou.

Fighters loyal to the GNA flashed the victory sign in the town’s streets, some with ammunition belts slung around their necks as they rode on top of pick up trucks, others clambering over a tank, pictures showed.

Tarhuna was the main rear base for the devastating offensive against the capital that eastern-based Haftar’s forces finally gave up this week, abandoning their remaining positions in the southern suburbs to advancing government troops.

“Our heroic forces have full control of Greater Tripoli right up to the city limits,” Gnounou had announced on Thursday.

GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj vowed that his government would impose its control over the whole of Libya.

“Our fight continues and we are determined to defeat the enemy (and) impose state control on the whole of the homeland,” Sarraj said after talks with key backer Turkey.

Late Thursday, Haftar’s spokesman Ahmad al-Mesmari confirmed his forces’ “redeployment” away from the capital after more than a year of sometimes intense fighting.

He said the redeployment was a “humanitarian gesture intended to spare the Libyan people further bloodshed”.

Hundreds have been killed and 200,000 more driven from their homes since Haftar launched his assault, vowing to “cleanse” the capital of the “terrorist militias” he said dominated the GNA.

The pro-GNA high command warned its troops on Facebook against perpetrating “acts of reprisals, looting or destruction” in Tarhuna as their troops circulated in the town on Friday.

Amnesty International said it had obtained evidence indicating “that war crimes and other violations may have been committed... including, looting, indiscriminate attacks” during the upsurge in fighting since mid-April.

Mesmari said the redeployment by pro-Haftar forces was intended to boost the work of a UN-backed military commission tasked with shoring up a nationwide ceasefire.

“We announce that we are redeploying our forces outside Tripoli on condition that the other side respect the ceasefire,” he said in a statement released late Thursday.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020