Haftar’s Bid For Tripoli Crumbles

The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) has announced the capture of the city of Tarhuna, the last stronghold of warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in western Libya. The fall of Tarhuna follows the GNA’s recapture of Tripoli International Airport and its surrounding neighbourhoods on Wednesday.

According to a statement made by GNA spokesperson, Mohammed Gununu, Tarhuna was attacked from four directions, with the attacking forces linking up in the center of the city. Combat with the Kaniyat militiamen holed up in the city lasted for around an hour, with Kaniyat survivors fleeing towards the town of Bani Walid while pursued by GNA forces.

Video of an arms cache in a abandoned LNA position, including a MANPAD and Kornet ATGMs.

GNA forces have discovered large amounts of unused ammunition and weaponry in positions abandoned by the LNA, including man-portable air defense systems and handheld drone jammers. Some abandoned vehicles were found as well, such as technicals, tanks and even a Mi-35 (Hind) attack helicopter. Most of the recovered equipment was found in good condition despite LNA radio orders to destroy any equipment that had to be left behind, testifying to the chaos of the LNA rout.

A grimmer discovery was that of at least 106 bodies in the morgue of the Tarhuna hospital, with preliminary reports stating that some of the bodies show signs of torture. GNA forces have been ordered to “comb” Tarhuna for any secret prisons or graves in order to find out the fates of residents who went missing during the Kaniyat militia’s control of Tarhuna.

While LNA forces have departed southern Tripoli, they left behind a significant amount of mines and IEDs amongst their former positions. The GNA has confirmed the death of 25 members of its mine clearance units in mine clearing operations to date, and has urged residents displaced from neighbourhoods previously controlled by the LNA to not return until the neighbourhoods are verified to be clear of any explosive devices.

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a joint press conference in Ankara on 4 May. Photo courtesy Libyan Government of National Accord

While Haftar’s year-long bid for Tripoli may have been utterly defeated, it remains to be seen what this portends for the future of Libya. In a Thursday joint press conference in Ankara, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the GNA intends to regain control of the entire country and bring “criminals” to justice. In comments to the Financial Times, GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha stated that Haftar’s forces are to be withdrawn to the warlord’s home base in Benghazi for peace talks to resume, as UN-mediated virtual negotiations between the GNA and LNA begin again.

GNA Chief of General Staff of the Libyan Armed Forces, General General Mohammed Al-Shrif has announced that Sirte is the next target of GNA forces. While there are reports of LNA forces withdrawing from Sirte and Bani Walid following the announcement, further GNA pushes do carry the risk of overstretching their forces in areas where the LNA holds the home field advantage, in a mirror image of the fighting for Tripoli. The influx of materiel to LNA forces to replace their losses in western Libya continue unabated as well, notably the combat aircraft that were sent from Russia, suggesting that Haftar’s various patrons have yet to tire of him, or at least the LNA as an organization.

Foreign patronage remains the largest sticking point for the future of Libya, with Turkey’s relentless drone support of GNA forces and the presence of the Russian Wagner PMC being two of the most notable examples. European Union sponsored peace talks between the GNA and LNA have suffered from a lack of leverage as a result. Without the European Union seizing the moment, Turkey and Russia will remain the ones calling the shots in Libya.