Forces allied to Libya’s internationally recognised government seized Gharyan south of Tripoli, the main supply base of eastern forces attacking the capital, witnesses and Tripoli officials said.
The takeover of Gharyan by Tripoli forces is a major blow to the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar, which on April 4 started an offensive to take Tripoli from the internationally recognised administration.
The offensive has not advanced beyond Tripoli’s southern suburbs and the frontline has not changed significantly for weeks.
Gharyan was until Wednesday the LNA main forward base where troops, weapons and ammunition arrived from the East.
Forces allied to the Tripoli government, backed by air strikes, stormed the town in a surprise attack, witnesses said.
They took the LNA central operations room. Gharyan is home to field hospitals and there is a helicopter base outside the town.
The Tripoli-based Presidential Council in charge of the government said in a statement Gharyan was fully “liberated”.
Member Mohammed al-Ammari warned in a separate statement against revenge attacks.
The LNA still holds Tarhouna south-east of Tripoli, its second main position in the campaign.
“This is a game changer,” said Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow with the North Africa and Middle East programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“If Haftar can’t retake it quickly, which is doubtful, Tarhouna and the remaining LNA units will be more isolated, under-resourced and with lower morale,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from the LNA, whose spokesman Ahmed Mismari hours earlier said an attack by Tripoli forces was repelled.
Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free the capital from militias they blame for destabilising Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.
Haftar’s critics accuse him of trying to seize power through force and deepening a conflict between factions in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.
Haftar’s offensive upended United Nations-led plans to stabilise Libya after years of conflict.