Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have deployed reinforcements to the legitimate government of Libya, the Government of National Accord (GNA), to prevent renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) from conquering Tripoli, a spokesman for the warlord’s forces claimed over the weekend.
As fighting for Tripoli intensified, GNA loyal forces pushed forward with a counter-offensive against the LNA, which has seized most of Libya with the help of Russia, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump called Haftar in a move that analysts have described as an endorsement of the strongman general and his eastern forces.
According to India’s World Is One News (WION), Ahmad Al-Mesmari, a spokesman for the LNA, proclaimed on Saturday, after Haftar’s call with Trump, “We have won the political battle and we have convinced the world that the [LNA] armed forces are fighting terrorism.”
The GNA “has received reinforcements from Al-Qaeda terrorists, Islamic State and foreign mercenaries,” he added.
Haftar’s foreign backers believe he can restore stability and effectively combat jihadi groups in the country, namely al-Qaeda and ISIS, as he has done in the past.
On the other hand, Turkey and Qatar have been lending support to the GNA troops. Besides the LNA spokesman, other critics reportedly claim the GNA includes forces from Islamic extremist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although the LNA has cleared several areas in Libya from al-Qaeda and ISIS, human rights groups have recently accused the force of war crimes.
Last week, Head of the Presidential Council Fayez Al-Sarraj urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the crimes and violations committed by “warlord” and “war criminal” Haftar and bring them to justice, the Libya Observer reported.
The GNA’s defense ministry has issued arrest warrants for Haftar and six of his loyalists over the alleged war crimes. The PM has reportedly urged his GNA forces to adhere to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and human rights as they fight against the warlord and his troops near Tripoli.
Since Haftar launched the operation to take Tripoli from the internationally recognized GNA, the fighting has killed 254 people and injured another 1,228, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
While the GNA is headquartered in Tripoli, the breakaway government led by Haftar is based in eastern Libya’s Tobruk region.
So far, the GNA has managed to keep Haftar and his troops from taking Tripoli.
On Sunday, Reuters reported:
Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government have pushed their eastern opponents back on parts of the frontline south of Tripoli, despite the attackers flying overnight air strikes on the capital, witnesses said on Sunday.
The latest flare-up in the cycle of anarchy gripping Libya since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 threatens to disrupt oil flows, foment migration across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, and allow jihadists to exploit the chaos.
LNA spokesman Mesmari denied that Haftar’s forces retreated this weekend, claiming they seized more territory after “very violent” fighting over the weekend.
Libya descended into political and security chaos after the U.S.- and NATO-backed removal and subsequent execution of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, terrorist groups have found a fertile jihadi ground in the North African country as the two rival governments — Haftar’s in Tobruk and al-Sarraj’s in Tripoli — fight for power and influence.
Reuters reports that fighting intensified after the White House last week reported that Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” during the phone call.
Trump made the call as Haftar’s ally France, which initially blocked the European Union from condemning the warlord’s Tripoli offensive, tries to distance itself from the strongman general.
In a similar move on Thursday, Russia and the United States opposed a United Kingdom effort at the United Nations Security Council backed by France and Germany to demand a truce in Libya.
Trump’s call with Haftar “has boosted the commander’s supporters and enraged his opponents,” Reuters reports.
According to the U.N., Haftar’s offensive in Tripoli has affected 1.5 million people, including children. The fighting has forced more than 32,000 to flee, it added.