LNA vows to retake al-Watiya airbase, says withdrawal was pre-planned

Redeployment in parts of Tripoli announced by LNA.
Tuesday 19/05/2020
Pre-planned moves. A file picture of Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), speaking at a press conference. (AFP)
Pre-planned moves. A file picture of Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), speaking at a press conference. (AFP)

TRIPOLI - Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said Tuesday the withdrawal of LNA troops from al-Watiya airbase was a pre-planned move that will be reversed as troops loyal to Field-Marshall Khalifa Haftar plan to retake control of the base.

On Monday, troops fighting for the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said they seized control of al-Watiya airbase southwest of Tripoli.

Under heavy Turkish air-drone cover, GNA militiamen took over the base, which had been held by LNA forces since 2014.

Mismari said the LNA opted to withdraw from the airbase due to Haftar's assesment of the military situation on the ground around the base.

He pointed out that the withdrawal started "not just today but since three or four months ago as we withdrew all out fighter jets, their ammunition and spare parts, operational and technical management room and the heavy equipment which could have hindered the withdrawal."

"After that, orders were issued to pull out the troops under air cover after the fallback point was secured," he said.

Mismari described the withdrawal operation as having taken place in "excellent" circumstances and said "strong measures" have been taken to enable LNA troops to retake control of the airbase.

The LNA spokesman also announced a redeployment operation in parts of the capital where the LNA is conducting an offensive against militants and militias backing the GNA.

He described the redeployment as "a purely military operation" that would involve the "withdrawal or repositioning of some troops from previous positions in certain axes." He called the redeployment "tactical," asking Libyans not to pay too much attention to the move since it is "a military matter of operational character."

He added that "Field-Marshal Haftar  has stressed that this step is motivated by the need to disengage from densely populated districts during days of Eid al-Fitr so that these areas are not targeted by the enemy."

He warned "militias and takfiris" as well as Turkish elements against attempting to exploit the military move.

A vast array of Islamic militants, armed militias and mercenaries dispatched by Turkey from Syria are fighting LNA troops in Tripoli and the western part of Libya.

Ankara has a direct military and intelligence presence on the ground.