General Haftar, Leader of Libyan National Army, Attacks Tripoli
General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army, ordered an attack on Tripoli, the base for the internationally recognized Libyan government, on April 4. Since the overthrow of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls the Eastern portion of Libya has frequently come into conflict with the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli. Forces aligned against Haftar have openly declared that they will resist any attempt by the LNA to encroach on Tripoli. International observers such as the United Nations remain concerned that this advance will escalate tensions between the various militias that support the different factions.
Haftar began his career in the Libyan military in 1966 and participated in Gadhafi’s original coup against the former monarchy in 1969. He defected from Libya in 1987 after being captured by Chadian forces, and joined the National Salvation Front for Libya where he then coordinated efforts from abroad to overthrow Gadhafi through the Front’s militant wing, the LNA. Following Gadhafi’s overthrow in 2011, Haftar returned to Libya but failed to secure a leadership role in the new government, whose congress was dominated by Islamist forces. He has received international support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who favor him for his tough approach to Islamists - although some say this attitude has prolonged the duration of the civil conflict.
Ministers of the G7 countries have called for an end to hostilities, saying, “We urge all involved parties to immediately halt all military activity and movements toward Tripoli.”
The United Nations Security Council met on April 5 in a closed-door meeting to discuss the Libyan situation. Secretary General Antonio Guterres went on Twitter to say, “I am deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation. There is no military solution. Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems. I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country.”
All of this occurs just ahead of a pre-scheduled UN conference on April 14 that will decide whether holding new elections will be the best way forward for Libya. “We know that holding the conference in this difficult time of escalation and fighting is a difficult matter,” said U.N. special envoy Ghassan Salame, “but we are determined to hold it on time unless compelling circumstances force us not to.”
As of writing, the BBC reports that there have been clashes between Haftar’s and government forces in the suburbs to the south of Tripoli; UN troops in the city have been placed on high alert. An imminent de-escalation of the conflict seems unlikely, with a reported airstrike conducted by the government-controlled air force to the south of Tripoli being met with a threat of retaliation from LNA forces. Haftar has also been reported as saying that he will not cease hostilities until his troops defeat “terrorism.”