Over three years his forces have clashed with militants as well as with former anti-Gaddafi rebels resisting what they saw as an attempt to reimpose autocratic rule. The Libyan National Army (LNA) suffered heavy losses, which its own officials put at more than 5,000 men.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s critics accuse him of dragging Benghazi into a war that he has used to establish military control over much of eastern Libya. Parts of Benghazi have been wrecked by heavy shelling and air strikes.
In Sabri, where the LNA advanced on Wednesday, deserted streets were littered with debris and the shells of rusting cars. Some buildings have been destroyed and others peppered with holes from bullets and shrapnel.
Having seized a string of key oil ports and southern air bases since last year, Haftar has made little secret of ambitions to enter Tripoli, where he portrays his rivals as beholden to Islamists and militia rule.
He has backing from foreign powers including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and has cultivated closer ties with Moscow. The LNA has gradually grown bigger and better equipped but is still heavily dependent on alliances with local brigades and tribes.
Though weak, the UN-backed government in Tripoli retains the formal support of most Western powers.