LNA targets Turkish drones as Tripoli fighting rages anew
TUNIS - Libyan National Army jet fighters destroyed facilities at the airport in Zouara, near the border with Tunisia, after Turkey began using the area to fly drones in its intensified assistance to Islamist militias on the outskirts of Tripoli.
Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Colonel Ahmed al-Mismari issued a statement saying unmanned aerial vehicle “facilities were flattened to the ground but the runway for civil aviation and the passengers waiting hall were spared by the air strikes.”
“The air strikes were a warning that any threat from anywhere in Libya to LNA’s units will face the same forceful response,” he added.
He said the air strikes targeted a runway and control tower at Zouara airport used to fly Turkish drones. LNA forces claimed to have downed at least six Turkish drones in July as Turkey increased its military support for the Islamists.
Libyan media quoted intelligence reports as saying that Turkey stepped up its assistance to militias linked to the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate in Libya by building four aircraft hangars at an airbase in Misrata, the stronghold of the Islamist Misrata militia.
The Misrata militia linked with an array of Islamist militias and other factions in Tripoli to fight the LNA. The militias are aligned with the internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
The LNA began its offensive on Tripoli April 4 after sweeping through southern Libya and taking control of main oilfields and air bases.
The Misrata militia, with significant manpower and sophisticated equipment, presented the LNA with its greatest military threat. Militia forces include fighters who battled Muammar Qaddafi’s troops in 2011 and routed Islamic State fighters from Sirte, with the support of the United States, Britain and Italy.
Rival forces battling for control of Tripoli observed a truce during Eid al-Adha but fighting resumed after the holiday with Islamist militias targeting Mitiga airport August 15.
Libyan media reported that Turkey has continuously flown a modified Boeing 737, equipped with an airborne warning and control system with a mobile radar surveillance, off the Libyan coast to collect information on the LNA’s movements.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the only world leader to publicly voice his country’s military support for the Islamists in Libya despite a UN Security Council arms embargo imposed on the country since 2011.
Libya is awash with guns powering a patchwork of an estimated 200,000 militiamen to fuel the chaos. The United Nations estimates there are 15 million-18 million weapons in Libya.
Turkey has sold weapons and equipment to the UN-backed GNA. Islamist militias are the military arm of the GNA, which has no military of its own.
“We have a military cooperation agreement with Libya. We are providing to them if they come up with a request and if they pay for it. They really had a problem in terms of defence needs, equipment,” Erdogan said.
He said he deplored that the GNA failed to win military support from any other country.
The battle for control of Tripoli threatens to become bloodier after rival sides vowed to intensify the fight that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people since April 4.
LNA General Khaled Mahjoub said: “We are determined to enter the centre of Tripoli. Our forces are positioned 5km from the city centre. Our operations are laying the grounds for our forces to enter the capital.”
Mahjoub and other commanders said the LNA had pushed militias back at key fighting lines of Kassarat and Laziziya.
Militia spokesmen said they “will get new weaponry to change the balance of the battle in Tripoli” while the spiritual leader of the Islamists, Sadiq al-Ghariani, assailed the UN peace mission in Libya as “siding with the enemy.”
“The United Nations and its envoy in Libya are aligned behind [LNA leader Field-Marshall Khalifa] Haftar and his forces and what was undertaken by the United Nations was a ruse, a trick. The hostility of the United Nations and its Security Council against Libya is clear,” Ghariani said.
The UN Support Mission in Libya brokered the Eid ceasefire in Tripoli.
In LNA-controlled Benghazi, a car bombing August 10 killed three UN staff members as their convoy passed through an area where people were shopping for the Muslim festival.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack but Mismari blamed Ghariani for “giving orders to carry out the bombing.”
Libyan political writer Mohamed Alamine said he was alarmed by the “rapidness” of the resumption of the fierce fighting at the end the truce.
“The truce was an opportunity to whet the hatred and hone the knives of animosity between the Libyans. The fighting erupted at the end of the truce as if the two sides were counting the hours and the minutes to resume killing one another,” he said.
“Why do we expect peace mediation from the outside world when we do not want peace intently?”