Forces allied with Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) say they have recaptured two towns near the Tunisian border from eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
“Our heroic forces have entered the towns of Bader and Tiji amid welcome from their residents,” the media office of the Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) Operation, the government-led counteroffensive launched last April, said in a statement on Facebook on Tuesday.
On Monday, forces allied to the GNA retook the strategic al-Watiya airbase south of the capital, Tripoli. The base had been under Haftar’s control since 2014.
Analysts say losing the base, one of the main strongholds for Haftar’s forces in western Libya, is a significant blow to Haftar’s year-long campaign to seize the capital from the GNA.
After losing control of the base, Ahmed al-Mesmari, the spokesperson for Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said on Tuesday Libya’s eastern-based forces had withdrawn from some embattled areas of the capital Tripoli.
However, al-Mesmari said in the televised speech that the base had been abandoned as part of a long-planned strategic decision and that only old, obsolete equipment was left there.
He said the forces had carried out a “redistribution and repositioning in the battlefronts, disengaging from some crowded residential areas”.
“This move was not made in the spur of the [moment]; it was planned for months. We’ve been pulling out strategical equipment and heavy military gear from the base,” al-Mesmari said.
“Only yesterday orders were given from personnel to withdraw under our air cover. The withdrawal was successful, and we’ve moved the personnel and all the weaponry and ammunition.
“We have our own plans and we will recapture the airbase.”
GNA forces retook the al-Watiya airbase after weeks of attempts, their biggest advance in a year that deprives the LNA of its only airfield near Tripoli.
After taking the base, they paraded what they said was a Russian-made Pantsir air defence system mounted on a truck, along with an Arabic manual.
GNA Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha said on Twitter that “Haftar’s chance of success is now effectively zero” following his loss of Watiya.