THU 16 - 7 - 2020
Date: Sep 17, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
East Libyan forces carry out airstrike on Sirte, widening front
BENGHAZI, Libya: Eastern Libyan forces Monday mounted an airstrike on the central city of Sirte held by the internationally recognized government, an official and residents said, widening a conflict engulfing the capital Tripoli. Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army force has been trying since April to take Tripoli, which is held by the internationally recognized government, with a ground campaign supported by airstrikes.

The campaign has displaced more than 120,000 people in Tripoli alone, killed hundreds of civilians and risks disrupting oil supplies from the country in chaos since the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

There have been LNA-claimed strikes in recent days on Sirte, some 450 kilometers by road east of Tripoli, but mainly on the outskirts, residents said.

Haftar, who is allied to an eastern parallel administration, might be trying to shift the front line from Sirte away from Tripoli where he has been unable to breach the city’s defenses and even lost his main forward base in Gharyan, Emad Badi, a Libya researcher, said.

Such a move would also pre-empt attacks on the main LNA supply base in Jufra, a central oasis that the Tripoli forces have attacked by air, said Badi, a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute.

The Sirte strike hit a building near a feedstock plant where a local force securing Sirte is based, which an LNA official said had been targeted.

The Tripoli-based government also said on Facebook that drones operated by the United Arab Emirates had carried out strikes against the positions of a force allied to it.

The UAE has been backing the LNA alongside Egypt, according to U.N. reports, but neither country has confirmed this. Turkey is backing the Tripoli forces.

Mitiga airport, the only working airport in Tripoli, was also targeted in the early hours of Monday, an eastern military source told Reuters. It has been closed for two weeks due to continued airstrikes.

Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free the capital from armed groups that they blame for destabilizing Libya since the fall of Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising. Haftar’s critics accuse him of trying to seize power through a military coup, deepening a conflict between factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.

Sirte, Gadhafi’s birthplace, was a stronghold for Daesh (ISIS) militants until Tripoli-forces backed by U.S. airstrikes expelled the group in December 2016.

The coastal city lies at the unofficial border of areas of influence of the Tripoli forces in western Libya and the LNA controlling the east.

The LNA suffered a setback when two commanders of an allied force in the town of Tarhouna southeast of Tripoli were killed late Friday. Tarhouna is the main forward base from where arms and troops arrive from the east after the force lost Gharyan, a town some 70 kilometers south of Tripoli, late in June.

Airstrikes have increased in recent weeks as both sides try to gain territory ahead of a conference Germany is planning to bring together the main foreign powers active in Libya.

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