Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and their allied forces suffered a major set back today when the Tripoli forces aligned to the internationally recognized Faiez Serraj-led Presidency Council and Government of National Accord pushed them back to the north of Gharian.
The situation is still fluid with conflicting reports. However, it seems that at some point today, local forces aligned with Tripoli from either within or just outside Gharian – caught the pro-Haftar forces by surprise forcing them to withdraw in haste.
The attack was also supported by air strikes.
Equally, it now seems that the heavy attack and focus by the Tripoli forces on the disused Tripoli International Airport may have been a decoy attack.
Alternatively, the pro-Haftar forces may have over committed forces to the Tripoli Airport front leaving an opportunity for the Tripoli forces to exploit light cover in their back lines in Gharian.
The pro-Haftar forces have been in control of the mountain city of Gharian since the eve of the launch by Hafter of the Tripoli attack on 4 April.
Climbing the steep and usually easily defendable road up to Gharian would be a major success for the Tripoli forces.
For example, during Libya’s 2011 revolution the Qaddafi troops had difficulty ascending the road – which was successfully defended from the advantage of height by anti-Qaddafi forces.
Gharian is a major strategic launch point for the pro-Haftar forces and its road offers vital access to the south and centre of Libya. Its permanent loss would affect supply lines and the dynamics of the Tripoli fighting. It could be a game changer.
The latest development also weakens the pro-Hafter forces concentrated down on the plane in and around the disused Tripoli International Airport, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.
However, it is yet to be seen if the local Tripoli-aligned forces can hold their Gharian territorial gains and whether the Tripoli forces can reach and link up with them to consolidate today’s gains.
Today’s sudden front line movement comes after weeks of stalemate along all fronts in the Tripoli fighting.
During today’s press conference, Official LNA Spokesperson Ahmed Mesmari, deflected questions on the the setback.