Libya unity government forces say seized key airbase

Agence France-Presse . Tripoli | Published: 22:08, May 18,2020


Libya’s unity government said Monday its forces had seized a strategic airbase from groups backing eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

‘We proudly announce the liberation of Al-Watiya base,’ 140 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Tripoli, said the head of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Haftar camp.

In recent weeks pro-GNA forces have stepped up air strikes against Haftar’s fighters, targeting their supply lines around Al-Watiya.

GNA forces spokesman Mohamad Gnounou said they had destroyed three Russian-made anti-aircraft systems in the airbase since Sunday, before the missile defences could be deployed against GNA forces.

The reported capture of Al-Watiya comes after a weeks-long siege by pro-GNA forces of the base used by Haftar’s airforce.

Last April, Haftar — who controls swathes of eastern Libya — launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli, seat of the UN-recognised GNA.

‘Today’s success is not the end of the battle but it brings us closer than ever to victory when all cities and regions will be liberated and the tyrannical bid threatening democracy crushed,’ Sarraj added in a statement.

Haftar’s forces have suffered several other setbacks in recent weeks, with GNA fighters ousting them from key positions, including two western coastal cities in April.

Oil-rich Libya plunged into conflict after the ouster and killing of veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, with rival administrations and militias vying for power.

The conflict pitting Haftar against the GNA has been exacerbated by foreign military intervention, with the United Arab Emirates and Russia backing the eastern-based strongman and Turkey supplying the unity government.

The battle for Tripoli has left hundreds dead, including dozens of civilians, and displaced more than 200,000 people.

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