US Forces Evacuate Tripoli As Fighting In Libyan Capital Heats Up

US troops have been ordered by the Pentagon to evacuate the Libyan capital of Tripoli as fighting between the UN-backed government and Benghazi-based 'renegade' General Khalifa Haftar spilled into the streets leaving at least 21 dead and 27 injured. US Army's Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced the evacuation on Sunday "in response to the evolving security situation there.

General Khalifa Haftar

"The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable," said AFRICOM commander Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. "Even with an adjustment of the force, we will continue to remain agile in support of existing U.S. strategy."

LNA Forces on their way to Tripoli

Haftar - who solidified control of Eastern Syria and swept through the south in January, seeks to capture Tripoli and seize military control of the entire country, after his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) claimed to have secured Tripoli's international airport. As we noted earlier Sunday, 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.

Video purporting to be from the inside the Tripoli airport was posted on social media Saturday. 

Photo via @LeBeckInt

The LNA's move on the capital comes before next week's UN-sponsored talks designed to map out a path to fresh elections, according to The Guardian

Footage on social media showed two fast US navy transport craft manoeuvring off a beach in Janzour, in Tripoli’s western suburbs, sending up plumes of spray as American forces were ferried from the shore. -The Guardian

The UN, meanwhile, appealed for a two-hour truce so that casualties and civilians could be evacuated, according to the BBC. The plea went unmet as fighting continued. 

According to BloombergUN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on March 31 that the two sides have discussed a "united caretaker government," however it's clear that those mediation efforts are faltering. 

Resistance to Haftar runs deep in Tripoli. Most of Libya’s population is based around the capital. Haftar’s ragtag forces are better organized than rivals and easily took over the south, including the biggest oilfield Sharara, through negotiations rather than fighting. Haftar’s move west, however, triggered a sharp reaction by the Tripoli militias. “At the moment it’s too early to come to any firm conclusion, and ultimately fighting could drag for weeks,” said Mohammad Darwazah, a director at Medley Global Advisors. -Bloomberg

As for how the current situation will impact oil prices, Bloomberg notes that the impact won't be immediate - as "Major oilfields and export terminals are far from the clashes," however "history shows that fighting anywhere in Libya can cause dramatic swings in output."

In June, Libya’s crude shipments were suspended for weeks after Haftar captured two export terminals and transferred them to an oil authority in eastern Libya. Exports dropped by 800,000 barrels a day and Libya lost almost $1 billion before he handed the terminals back to the Tripoli-based National Oil Corp. “Oil operations have been largely normal but any sustained fighting could quickly bring Libya back below one million barrels a day,” Darwazah said. -Bloomberg

Bloomberg further notes that any disruption at Zawiya port - the Sahara's main export terminal, would cause a partial or a complete shutdown of the oil field which currently produces around 300,000 barrels a day. It is expected to load 6 million barrels of crude in April, which could be completely under Haftar's control if he takes the terminal. 

Hafter now controls over one million barrels of oil production a day, as well as Libya's strongest military force which is backed by Russia. 

We're guessing the latest Libyan internal conflict will create a new wave of migrants that will promptly head for Europe.