Mon, 28 Sep 2020

Fighting Stalls After 'Final Assault' on Tripoli Fails to End War

Voice of America
16 Dec 2019, 08:35 GMT+10

TUNIS, TUNISIA - Libya has two governments. They are at war with each other and both have TV news channels.

On a channel supporting the Libyan National Army, which controls Libya's east, a presenter in military fatigues on Sunday sat in front of pictures of soldiers, weapons, and a view the Libyan capital. "We are getting inside Tripoli," he said.

On a channel supporting the Government of National Accord, which holds the west, including the capital Tripoli, a spokesperson proclaimed the assault had failed, and eastern forces remained in the suburbs. "They were not able to enter," he said.

The only thing the two stations agreed upon was that since Khalifa Haftar, the LNA military leader and the de facto head of the eastern government, announced a "final assault" on Tripoli Friday, there has been fighting. Observers in Tripoli said they did not see any of Haftar's forces inside the city, but they did hear airstrikes.

And neither side of Libya's war is likely to have a decisive victory any time soon, according to analysts, as international actors intensify their support on both sides.

"The battle could go on in a manner similar to this pushing and pulling for quite a long time," said Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies who specializes in Libya. "Neither side has a significant military advantage."

Long battle

Haftar's forces invaded Tripoli at the beginning of April, and since then the two sides have been mired in a stalemate in the suburbs.

Since then, more than 2,000 people have been killed in the fighting, including hundreds of civilians, and roughly 150,000 people have fled their homes.

The LNA said GNA fighters are extremist militias, while inside Tripoli, locals and officials say Haftar is is a strongman who aims to be Libya's new dictator.

In 2011, NATO-backed rebels overthrew Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for more than 40 years before he was killed during the uprising. Since then, Libya has gone to war with itself several times, despite local and international efforts to form a unity government.

Tripoli residents say besides the dangers, ongoing battles have kept Libya in a state of financial crisis and stymied attempts to develop new businesses or attract investors.

On a break from the frontlines to celebrate a wedding in Tripoli, Mohammad Bashir, a soldier with the GNA, said the fighting had subsided by Sunday morning, but nine months of war have already had a lasting impact on his life.

"This war has kidnapped my youth," he said.

International supporters

The LNA is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France and Russia, but it is still not strong enough to capture Tripoli, Akl, the analyst, said.

The GNA is recognized by the United Nations and the European Union, and is supported by Turkey, Qatar and Italy. Still, it is unable to fully repel the LNA, he added.

With the exception of Turkey, all of the international supporters deny providing direct military support to either side, but weapons from several countries have been observed in the field.

On Saturday, the Turkish parliament met to solidify plans to send troops to Libya if requested by the GNA, which has not officially responded to the offer.

Locals said the Turkish offer alone may have prompted Haftar to announce the assault. It was one of many speeches since April in which he declared his forces were poised to swiftly capture the city. In the speech, he called the coming days, the "zero hour" for GNA forces.

GNA soldiers fortified their lines around the city in anticipation of the attack, but Mustafa El-Majee, spokesman for the GNA operations, later reported gaining ground after the battles.

"We think he (Haftar) is playing all of his cards," Majee said in an interview Sunday evening. "We hope this is his 'zero hour.'"

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