Middle East

ANALYSIS - Haftar's militia crippled by obstacles in Tripoli

Although 8 months passed since his military campaign on Libya's capital, Haftar still unable to capture Tripoli

Mustapha Dalaa   | 20.12.2019
ANALYSIS - Haftar's militia crippled by obstacles in Tripoli


More than eight months have passed since commander Khalifa Haftar, leading the power in the eastern Libya, launched an extensive military campaign to capture the capital from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

But Haftar has been unable to gain control of Tripoli, especially after meeting firm resistance from GNA forces.

Since the ouster of late leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: one in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and another in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.

This story tells main reasons behind Haftar’s failure to achieve his goal.

Weak in quantitative strength, Haftar resorted to recruiting thousands of mercenaries from the Sudanese and Chadian opposition.

In addition, mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group and members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, aka Janjaweed militia, are fighting alongside Haftar, who is also being aided by Emirati drones as well as Egyptian and French military and logistical support.

Such support for Haftar prompted the Libyan people to feel that Haftar's campaign on Tripoli is a form of occupation by multinational forces.

The majority of locals in the western region of Libya stand against Haftar's ambitions to turn Libya into a military dictatorship.

Haftar hoped for a popular uprising by locals of Tripoli to facilitate his mission to storm the capital; however, the opposite happened in the strategic city of Gharyan, located some 81 kilometers (50 miles) south of Tripoli.

As locals in Gharyan rose up, Haftar's forces were expelled from the city with the help of the brigades from Misrata, Zintan and Zawiya in June.

The residents of Tripoli, Misrata and Zuwara took to the streets more than once in demonstrations protesting Haftar's attacks on their safe cities and the threat he poses to the social fabric of the western region.

Haftar’s forces are a heterogeneous mixture of tribal militants, former army men from Qaddafi's regime and others who participated in the revolution against the latter.

Meanwhile, Haftar’s struggle juxtaposed the two sides of the fight in Sudan’s Darfur region -- rebels and pro-government Janjaweed -- as well as bringing French officers with Russian mercenaries.

This caused chaos during the combat, as the GNA regained the control of Gharyan from the rival forces within hours.

The main supply lines for Haftar forces start at the Al-Rajma area in Benghazi city, some 1,000 km (621 mi) from Tripoli.

After supplies are collected from the cities and towns of the eastern region and from Benina International Airport in Benghazi, they are transferred to the Al-Jufra airbase, 600 km (372 mi) southeast of Tripoli and then to Gharyan, and later to fighting fronts in the southern Tripoli.

The long travels for hundreds of kilometers taking days to reach the fronts can be cut and the most prominent example is what happened when GNA forces retook control of Gharyan on June 26.

Convoys and transit areas are also vulnerable to airstrikes which left the forces in the frontline in a tough situation.

The number of Haftar's forces, with all components, ranges from 25,000 to 30,000, of whom only 7,000 are trained. Spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari has recently admitted losing 7,000 fighters.

While the forces are deployed on spacious areas, they also lack armament despite the military support provided by the UAE and Egypt.

Haftar's forces still rely on old aircraft that have become out of service in most of the armies around the world. They also lack a number of developed tanks and other deterrence weapons such as missiles.

Most of Haftar's forces come from outside Tripoli, while GNA's fighters know their cities and neighborhoods in detail and are skilled in the street fights. They are also based inside densely populated neighborhoods that are difficult to penetrate without high human and material costs.

The GNA forces also enjoys air superiority with warplanes, drones and air defense systems.

The Tripoli-seated GNA enjoys international recognition by the UN and major countries and dominate the oil revenue which forms the main source of country's income.

In April, Haftar's forces launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli from the internationally recognized government, but have so far failed to progress beyond the city’s outskirts.

However, on Dec. 12, Haftar announced that he had ordered his militants to launch a “decisive battle” to capture the capital.

According to UN data, more than 1,000 people have been killed since the start of the operation and more than 5,000 injured.

*Writing by Mahmoud Barakat

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