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Monday, January 9, 2017

Libyan Field Marshal Haftar's forces launch air strikes agianst opponents

Air strikes were carried out by forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar associated with the eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) government a rival to the UN-supported Government of National Accord(GNA) based in the west in Tripoli.

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Ahmed al-Mismari, a spokesperson for Haftar's Libyan National Army said the strikes were against a camp of LNA opponents, the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) in the central Jufra region. The BDB are a radical Islamist militia who are opponents of Haftar and have clashed with Haftar's forces before. Recently, they unsuccessfully attempted to take the Oil Crescent Oil ports from Haftar who had captured them from another opponent Ibrahim Jadhran, former head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard(PFG) in the east. Two earlier counter-attacks also failed. Haftar's Operation Dignity started in May 2014 was meant to clear Islamist militias opposed to him from Libya. Haftar has even threatened to liberate Tripoli by attacking his Islamist militia opponents there. So far there has been no attempt to actually enter Tripoli. Any attempt to do so could unite those opposed to him who are presently divided between those who support the coup attempt of the General National Congress(GNC) and former Salvation government and those who support the GNA.
Al-Mismari claimed: "This was a pre-emptive strike against militias that are mobilising for an attack against the Libyan army." Local media sites have shown thick smoke rising from the oasis town of Hun where the attack took place. The BDB has made no statement on the attack and has reported no casualties as yet.
The Libya Observer gives a more detailed account of the airstrikes quoting the Misrata Military Council as saying that the attacks were against the 9-19 Brigade in Hun town, Al-Jufra. The Council said that there were injuries and material damage as a result of the raids. The Council said: “The brigade that was targeted in Hun is part of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos and part of the war against IS terror groups in Sirte. It had sacrificed many of its fighters in the war on IS radicals." The Council said that at the right time and place it would strongly react to the attacks and warned the LNA forces of doing anything that could destabilize the country. Unlike other sources, the Observer does not describe the units as part of the BDB.
The media office of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous or BAM, also condemned the bombing. BAM is the Operations Room that ran the Sirte offensive that just recently completed the recapture of Sirte from the Islamic State. Haftar has been dismissive of the operation which has seen hundreds of BAM forces killed and thousands wounded. A Haftar official said:The Chief of staff of Dignity Operation militia groups Abdul-Razzaq Nadouri has denied the previous control of ISIS group of Libya's Sirte, indicating the presence of the radical group in the coastal city was drama....." In fact, there was no ISIS group in Sirte," he told UAE-funded Libya Channel.
He claimed that all Misrata forces had left Sirte and handed it over to Ansar Sharia group, which is in full control of the city now, according to him.
Although, Haftar had at one time announced an operation to liberate Sirte, he ended up not doing so and instead took control of a number of oil fields. One wonders who killed and wounded so many BAM forces if there were no Islamic State fighters in Sirte.
Although the 9-19 brigade was involved in the Sirte offensive, the GNA has not come to their defense or denounced the airstrikes against them. The GNA has denied any involvement in the recent failed counter-attack against the oil ports. The Libya Herald also reports on the airstrikes. The article claims the attacks were on the Tagrift base, a former police headquarters, located in Hun, about three hours drive from oil fields controlled by the LNA. The 9-19 brigade is described as being one of the Benghazi Defence Brigades by LNA spokesperson Ahmed Mismari. Mismari also said that soon there will be an endorsement for the LNA to enter Tripoli "to protect civilians". He did not say who would endorse an attack on Tripoli. So far the LNA allies, the Zintan Brigades have refused to agree to join in a military action against Tripoli.
The LNA has warned of impending attacks against the eastern oilfields. However, the LNA has also warned that it will engage in pre-emptive action. Omar Laswad from Zintan, a boycotting member of the GNA Presidency Council warned that an attack was being planned against the eastern oil terminals now controlled by Haftar. According to the Libya Herald:The BDB are supported by the proposed Defense Minister of the GNA Mahdi Bargathi and are deemed loyal to the Grand Mufti Sadeq Ghariani. Ibrahim Jadran as well as PC member Mijibri are also believed to be in support of the BDB.Note that some claims in Libyan media may be disputed by one side or the other in the conflict. What seems clear though is that there could be a dangerous escalation of the Libyan conflict if Haftar carries through with his threat to try to occupy Tripoli.


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