LNA army deploys fresh troops in its Tripoli offensive ahead of Berlin talks
TUNIS - Libyan National Army Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar supervised the deployment of additional units to build up his forces on the outskirts of Tripoli before a "final" thrust to "free" the Libyan capital of "Islamist militias and other terrorist groups."
Haftar's move followed a January 16 meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Benghazi to underline his commitment to end control of Tripoli by Islamist militias.
Islamist militias are aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's soldiers and his allies in the Syrian war, fighters moved by Turkey to the Libyan conflict.
After the reinforcement of LNA, Haftar went to Greece to show supporters determination to fight the Islamists and their backers.
A statement from the Libyan National Army (LNA) said Haftar’s supervision of additional forces was “in preparation for the final decisive offensive” against militias and other armed groups in Tripoli.
The LNA has been waging an offensive since April to capture Tripoli. It seized the control of the key town of Sirte on January 6. The LNA controls more than 90% of Libyan territory, leaving the GNA forces retrenched in downtown Tripoli, Misrata and Zawiya.
The LNA say it has been observing a ceasefire since January 12 although Haftar rejected signing an accord in Moscow that included a demand by Sarraj that the LNA retreat to its positions before the offensive.
The 9-month-old campaign over Tripoli is the latest bout of chaos in Libya, which has become a hub for human traffickers to ship migrants to Italy, while GNA-supporting militants exploited the lawlessness to provide bases for jihadists.
"If developments in Libya are allowed to continue, then Libya will be the next Syria and we don't want that to happen," Maas told German television after his meeting with Haftar.
The January 19 conference in Berlin would bring together Libyan rival camps and the foreign powers that support them to try to end the war over Tripoli and resume talks on power sharing.
Among those expected for the conference are Russian President Vladimir Putin,
Erdogan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and European leaders, Maas said.
"Haftar has signalled his readiness to contribute to the success of the Libya Conference in Berlin and is willing to participate. He has repeated his commitment to observe the existing ceasefire," Maas said on Twitter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the move and said the conference aimed to get parties to honour a weapons embargo. "At the Libya Conference we must above all see that the weapons embargo is adhered to again, which is basically agreed by the UN but unfortunately not honoured," she said.
Maas told German television that, after a ceasefire and arms embargo had been observed, a political process must take place under the auspices of the United Nations to give Libya a prospect of ending its civil war.
Turkey was beginning to send troops to Libya in support of Sarraj's government, Erdogan said January 16. "In order for the legitimate government in Libya to remain standing and for stability to be established, we are now sending our soldiers to this country," Erdogan said in Ankara.
Greece was furious at the agreement between Turkey and Sarraj's government as it seeks to map out a maritime boundary that skims the Greek island of Crete and which Greece and allies said was in violation of international law.
Maritime boundaries could give countries the right to explore for hydrocarbons in an as-yet untapped part of the Mediterranean.
Greece said it would exercise its EU veto on any peace pact in Libya that does not void the Turkish-Libyan deal.