The so-called international community led by the West once itself responsible for destabilizing Libya by toppling Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, is now urging Benghazi-based renegade General Khalifa Haftar to halt his ongoing assault on the country's capital.
Tripoli witnessed its second day heavy fighting on Saturday, threatening to further rip the country apart descending toward another civil war, as Haftar's self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) fought to secure Tripoli's international airport, which the LNA later claimed full success in doing. Some international reports confirmed that the LNA gained full control of the airport later in the day Saturday, but other conflicting reports say that this was premature, which could mean only a section was wrested from Tripoli forces.
Tripoli International Airport lies 34km from the city center, and should Haftar gain it as a foothold it will likely be used as a main base of attack by the LNA to try and take the sprawling capital, which is likely to unleash many more days, weeks, or possibly months of bloodshed and heavy fighting.
Already air raids were reported against the LNA, as the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), better equipped from external backers, defended the capital.
Clashes intensified b/w #LNA & Forces loyal to #GNA as LNA captured the International Airport & continue to advance into #Tripoli. Air strikes were conducted against #LNA & Tanks can also be seen deployed on the streets. Situation very tense + casualties reported. #Libya pic.twitter.com/JTdjOjhnTL— Nadia Ramadan (@NadiaR_LY) April 6, 2019
Dramatic scenes coming out of Libya during the weekend clashes resembled battles set amidst a scarred urban backdrop from 2011 fighting which resulted in NATO military intervention led by the US, UK, and France.
Days ago Haftar ordered his troops to assault to capital, raising alarm bells among international supporters of the GNA headquartered in Tripoli.
So far over a dozen LNA fighters have been reported killed in the battle for Tripoli's airport while local media said up to four civilians died in the crossfire.
Though the precise extent of the 75-year old Haftar's forces gains inside Tripoli remain unclear, international reports are unanimous in saying he's manage to overtake some areas on the outskirts of the city.
Based in Libya's oil-rich east, Haftar's militia has already captured much of the country's oil resources, especially after a successful blitz to take much of the south this year.
And now he stands ready to take the capital of Tripoli in the west — home to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libya's state-run National Oil Corporation, which when combined with small subsidiaries under its direction accounts for some 70% of the country's oil output.
#Libya- it's only day 3 of Operation "Flood of Dignity". Despite initial successes, LNA is still only at outskirts of #Tripoli&facing resistance. Nonetheless, Haftar met with Nadoori, al-Thani&Bushnav (MoI) to discuss fate of Tripoli & western region after conclusion of operation pic.twitter.com/5hvqzQyq1s— Oded Berkowitz (@Oded121351) April 6, 2019
The UAE — a longtime Gulf backer of Haftar — has reportedly tried to intervene with Haftar, urging him to put on the brakes and negotiate a power sharing situation, but to no avail.
Interestingly, Haftar has also enjoyed the political backing of an unlikely assortment of powerful countries that include Russia, France, and Egypt. This is due to his purported secular identity and political platform, and his willingness to fight the jihadists, including Libyan ISIS.
Haftar's forces claimed full control over Tripoli International Airport Saturday, but this was disputed by Tripoli GNA officials.
Commonly seen as a "secular autocrat" with external backing and potentially "West-friendly", he precisely fits the model of a nationalist type dictator uniting the various large feuding tribes in the mold of Gaddafi (the late Libyan 42-year ruler himself at various times enjoyed the backing of European powers).
Bloomberg reported previously that his LNA already has immense leverage the military showdown with the Tripoli GNA continues:
Already in control of Libya’s main oil-exporting terminals, the LNA has secured its biggest oil field since beginning its southern campaign in January. That puts Haftar in control of more than 1 million barrels of production a day, giving him crucial leverage over the OPEC member’s key source of income as well as command of its most powerful fighting force.
Post-Gaddafi Libya has been largely forgotten about in the media after its "liberation" by NATO and Islamist militants, and since 2011 has existed in varying degrees of anarchy and chaos.
Libya has remained split between rival parliaments and governments in the east and west, with militias and tribes lining up behind each, resulting in fierce periodic clashes.
The U.N. Security Council fears that the Libyan National Army's advances toward Tripoli –– where the U.N.-backed government is –– could lead to a military showdown.https://t.co/Htb5xrPhM9— NPR (@NPR) April 6, 2019
The most significant of these warring militias nationwide has long been Haftar's LNA, which has for the past couple years controlled much of eastern Libya and emerged as the chief rival to the UN-backed GNA in the western half of the country.
Haftar has since 2017 been reported to be planning a move on Libya's vital "oil crescent region" while bolstering his forces with Chadian mercenaries, according to prior local reports. Now largely successful in this endeavor, control of the capital would constitute the endgame allowing him to solidify rule over all portions of the country.
Prior the 2011 Libyan war and NATO military intervention which ultimately led to the field execution of Muammar Gaddafi, the country produced about 1.6 million bpd, but years of turmoil and political instability in the aftermath have slashed that to 550,000 barrels per day as of 2018 output numbers.