Analysis: Haftar's offensive
Khalifa Haftar orders Military Offensive on the west
The past twentyfour hours have seen a dramatic escalation of violence in Libya.
A week before the peace-building National Conference in Ghadames, with the UN Secretary-General already in Libya, Khalifa Haftar ordered Libyan National Army (LNA) forces to advance on Tripoli, claiming his forces were battling terrorism and rooting out militias. In response to this military provocation, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA) issued a state of emergency asking all troops to be ready for combat.
A chaotic scramble to conquer key territories ensued, with LNA forces capturing towns like Gharyan and Al Hira (40km from the capital, Tripoli). Additionally, an LNA General told Libya Desk that “Al-Zahra, ‘Aziziya, Highway 28 and Highway 17 [were] officially under the army control”, thus seizing a major entryway into Tripoli.
In an attempt to stifle the offensive, Sarraj ordered air strikes on any hostile troops approaching Tripoli while General Mabrouk Sahban of the LNA retaliated by warning all airports from allowing jets targeting his forces from launching, threatening they would be “bombed immediately by the Airforce”.
Meanwhile, after Highway 27 briefly falling under LNA control, Zawiya Revolutionaries, allied to the Tripoli Protection Force were able to take back the checkpoint, forcing LNA forces to retreat out of Al-Zahra.
UN Security Council to meet at 3pm on Friday, April 5th, UNSG flies to Tobruk and Benghazi for talks with Haftar
Following these developments, the UK called for the UN Security Council to meet in closed consultations on Libya at 3pm on Friday, April 5th. Ghassan Salame, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), is currently briefing the UN Security Council on the situation.
In the meantime, in an effort to broker diplomacy and foster peace talks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, already in Libya ahead of the National Conference scheduled next week, flew from Tripoli to Tobruk and Benghazi to talk with Khalifa Haftar, reiterating that “there is no military solution for the Libyan crisis, only a political one.” He left the meeting and Libya “with a heavy heart and deeply concerned”, having failed to broker a ceasefire between the LNA and the GNA.
Libya Desk has spoken to sources in both camps in order to gain insight on the escalating tensions between Khalifa Haftar’s LNA and the UN-backed GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
Here are three key takeaways from recent developments in Libya:
1. Given recent strategic conquests, Haftar not to be underestimated
Haftar should not be underestimated twice. The LNA has already successfully carried out 3 ‘impossible’ operations in Benghazi, Derna and, most recently, in the South. It is likely that Haftar green-lit the operation having had successfully arranged new alliances and tactics with local tribes, cities, militias and politicians.
2. We are looking at a fluid conflict characterised by “media victories”
The state of the battlefield is fluid, all gains and losses should be considered as short lived victories as most parties focus on the media aspect of war, looking for photo ops and not so much towards the strategies of war - that is, securing newly gained territory.
3. Divisions among key players in the West are being overlooked
Divisions among key players in the West are being overlooked. Haftar supporters are among local elites and citizens in Misrata, Zintan, Zawiya and Tripoli. As western forces fight back the LNA, they are simultaneously suppressing possible supporters of Haftar among their own ranks. Having to look left and right at the same time could prove disastrous for the western counter-offensive.