Libya’s UN-recognized government announced Friday another victory in its counter-offensive against eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar, overrunning his last western stronghold Tarhuna, launchpad of an abortive 14-month assault on the capital.
The recapture of the strategic town southeast of the capital capped a week that already saw the Government of National Accord reestablish control over the whole of Greater Tripoli, including the abandoned civilian airport on its southern outskirts.
“Our heroic forces have extended their control over the whole of Tarhuna,” said GNA spokesman Mohamad Gnounou.
Tarhuna was the main rear base for the devastating offensive against the capital that Haftar’s forces finally gave up this week, abandoning their remaining positions in the southern suburbs to advancing government troops.
“Our heroic forces have full control of Greater Tripoli right up to the city limits,” Gnounou announced on Thursday.
GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj vowed that his government would impose its control over the whole of Libya.
“Our fight continues and we are determined to defeat the enemy, impose state control on the whole of the homeland and destroy all those who jeopardize the construction of a civil, democratic and modern state,” Sarraj said after talks with the GNA’s main military backer Turkey.
Late Thursday, Haftar’s spokesman Ahmad al-Mesmari confirmed his forces’ “redeployment” away from the capital after more than a year of sometimes intense fighting.
He said the redeployment was a “humanitarian gesture intended to spare the Libyan people further bloodshed”.
Hundreds have been killed and 200,000 more driven from their homes since Haftar launched his assault, vowing to “cleanse” the capital of the “terrorist militias” he said dominated the GNA.
Mesmari said the redeployment was intended to give a boost to the work of a UN-backed military commission tasked with shoring up a nationwide ceasefire.
“We announce that we are redeploying our forces outside Tripoli on condition that the other side respect the ceasefire,” he said in a statement released late Thursday.
“If they do not respect it, we will resume military operations and suspend our participation in the negotiations of the military committee.”
The United Nations’ Libya mission said Tuesday that after a three-month suspension, the warring parties had agreed to resume ceasefire talks.
A military commission made up of five GNA loyalists and five Haftar delegates held talks in February, but the dialogue was suspended.
A January truce brokered by Turkey and key Haftar ally Russia has been repeatedly violated.
Haftar is supported by neighboring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as well as Russia.
His forces control the whole of eastern Libya, with its economically vital oilfields and export infrastructure.
They also control most of the far-flung oasis cities of the vast desert south.
But they have suffered a string of defeats in recent months at the hands of GNA forces, which have been bolstered by significant Turkish military support.
Earlier this year, Haftar’s forces already lost a string of towns along the Mediterranean coast between the capital and the Tunisian border.
In April, UN experts said hundreds of mercenaries from Russian paramilitary organization the Wagner Group were fighting for him.
But last month, as Haftar’s losses mounted, the GNA said Wagner Group fighters had withdrawn from combat zones south of the capital.
Libya has endured years of violence since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations and scores of militias battling for power.
The United Nations has urged outside powers to respect a deal reached at a January conference in Berlin, ending foreign meddling and upholding a much-violated arms embargo.
Image: Residents of Tripoli celebrate after Libya’s UN-recognised unity government announces it is back in full control of the capital and its suburbs. (AFP / Mahmud TURKIA)