General Khalifa Haftar has ordered his troops to move against the Libyan capital Tripoli as the proxy war within the country escalates to a new phase. This latest move marks a dramatic escalation in the conflict which has plagued Libya since the Western-backed overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011.
Libya has been divided between the Western-supported government in Tripoli and Haftar’s administration centred around the eastern stronghold of Benghazi since the fall of Gadaffi and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is in Tripoli, has urged calm and a political solution to the conflict. Despite calls for restraint, armed forces from Misrata have begun to make their way toward the capital to stand against Haftar and the biggest clash seen in Libya since the Civil War is expected.
Releasing a video entitled “Operation to liberate Tripoli,” Haftar said:
“To our army which is stationed at the outskirts of Tripoli. Today we complete our march … We are going to start shortly.”Khalifa Haftar
Haftar, who has the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, took part in the coup that brought Colonel Gadaffi to power in 1969 before turning against Gadaffi following time as a prisoner of war in Chad. Haftar joined the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), a U.S. supported opposition group to Gadaffi and spent nearly two decades in Langley, Virginia supporting several attempts to topple and assassinate Gaddafi through his close contacts within the American intelligence community.
While Haftar has extensive links with the Americans and is reported to have received assistance from Israel, Washington is believed to publically favour a mediated outcome and is still backing the Tripoli government alongside Turkey and Qatar, despite there being reports that British, French and U.S. air forces have assisted Haftar’s forces against Salafist forces in the east of the country. To further complicate matters, Haftar has met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov with Russia throwing their weight behind the General and insisting he plays a role in the future of the country.
We things still developing on the ground it may be too early to tell where the pieces will fall, yet the latest developments are being seen as a setback for both the UN and the U.S. who have sought a negotiated peace between the two factions.
While a national conference is scheduled for this month to agree on a road map toward democratic elections, critics of Haftar suggest that no elections will be forthcoming should he secure the entirety of Libya.