Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government have seized a major airbase south of Tripoli from rival forces who have been trying to take over Libya for more than a year.
A top military commander says the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has complete control of al-Watiya airbase. Observers call this a huge setback for commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA).
The commander says GNA forces captured a Russian-made Pantsir air defense system mounted on a truck and posted video of what he says is the destruction of a second Pantsir system from the air.
“Today’s victory does not constitute the end of the battle but brings us closer than any time before to the bigger victory, the liberation of all towns and regions and bases,” Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said late Monday.
The LNA is calling its withdrawal a tactical maneuver. It insists al-Watiya has no military importance and that any equipment left behind is old and useless.
The GMA controls the capital, Tripoli, but the LNA controls eastern and southern Libya, most of the oil fields and refineries, and the key Mediterranean port of Sirte.
Both sides have been battling for Tripoli for more than a year with most of the fighting concentrated in the capital’s suburbs and thousands of civilians caught in the middle.
The GMA is the United Nations-installed government, and the LNA is Haftar’s rival administration, headquartered in eastern Libya.
Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are the LNA’s chief backers, while Turkey has sent drones and defensive equipment to the GNA.
Efforts by both Turkey and Russia, along with the European Union and United Nations, to set up a lasting ceasefire in Libya and open the door to a political settlement and elections have failed.
The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli again called for all sides to give peace a chance, saying “there is no military solution to the crisis in Libya.”