Libya’s internationally recognised government is focused on pushing its enemies out of artillery range of Tripoli after making advances on the main western battle fronts, the interior minister said.
Driving the forces of commander Khalifa Haftar from Tarhouna, south-east of the capital, could end Libya’s civil war, minister Fathi Bashagha told Reuters.
This would be “the most difficult military option” at present in the Government of National Accord (GNA) fight against eastern-based Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), Bashagha said.
“Our focus is on how to protect Tripoli and the people of Tripoli and keep the artillery bombardment away,” he said.
During a news conference in Tripoli, Bashagha said there were initial reports of chemical weapons use against GNA forces and he was awaiting further details.
Tarhouna was the LNA main strategic centre in the west, providing local manpower for a campaign that leaned heavily on air support from the United Arab Emirates and Russian military contractors.
Pro-GNA forces made advances last week on the main fronts in western Libya, taking back territory along the coast and pushing toward the main LNA support base at Tarhouna, 65 km) from the capital.
It marked a possible turning point in the year-long war between the GNA and the LNA, which launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture Tripoli and bombarded the capital for weeks.
LNA forces control eastern Libya, where a rival administration rules in Benghazi, and much of the country’s south. Libya’s main institutions, including the oil company and central bank, are in Tripoli.
GNA overall strategy is to regain control over western Libya, Bashagha said. He added no military solution was possible, but it was also not possible to negotiate with Haftar.
“As for Tarhouna, this is the most difficult military option to storm because it is the first focal and rallying point for the LNA. Entering Tarhouna, we believe the war would end because no other city is considered a gathering point for Haftar’s forces,” Bashagha said.
Diplomatic peace efforts ran aground and the UN special envoy resigned in March citing ill health.
Turkish military support for the GNA, particularly with air defence and drones, was crucial in its latest advances.
The UN Libya mission said at least 3 100 people were displaced in Tarhouna and nearby GNA-held town Qarabouli, this week as fighting escalated.
Eye witnesses in another west LNA-held Libya town, Qasr bin Ghashir, said shelling killed eight people.