Exclusive - Liberation of Libya’s Derna: Haftar’s Arrival Frightens his Political Rivals in Tripoli

Exclusive - Liberation of Libya’s Derna: Haftar’s Arrival Frightens his Political Rivals in Tripoli

Sunday, 17 June, 2018 - 11:45
Forces loyal to Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar. (AFP)
Libyan-Egyptian borders – Abdul Sattar Hatita
Libyan National Army commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar stormed into the last bastion of extremists in the east of the country, raising great fears among his opponents in the capital Tripoli.

However, he might need to wage other wars in the west in order to extend his full control over the chaotic state.

Asharq Al-Awsat presents three episodes on the repercussions of the liberation of Derna by the LNA on the political, military and security situation throughout Libya.

The first episode revolves around the political campaign aimed at playing down the army’s victories and exaggerating claims of crimes perpetrated against civilians, especially after troops executed detainees, who were believed to be extremists.

While stationed under long antennas with two military signal vehicles, army officers talked about the situation in Derna, asserting that the field marshal was currently being subjected to a fierce political campaign by his enemies, “because of the mistakes of three or four reckless members”.

They said that such campaign “could distort the commander’s efforts”, as fierce military operations are taking place in the city of Derna.

From the top of a rocky highland, the city’s houses looked white. From time to time, black smoke rises from the south, where a group of militants are still holed up inside.

The next day, three families, who had fled from the grip of the extremists, returned to the city.

Amal al-Obeidi, a well-known media figure, said she had not been able to return home for years because of the control of the Abu Salim group, which is mainly formed of a mixture of extremists who settled in Derna.

She explained that the situation in the area was still difficult, and that the operation of the army, which she supports, should be more professional, in view of the extremists’ policy to force children to join their ranks and head to battle.

Another witness said that some of Derna’s residents were still under the captivity of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, “a fact that the LNA should be aware of, as it advances inside the city, to prevent the killing of innocent people.”

“Fourteen-year-old Fayez went out to buy bread for his mother, and as soon as he walked a few steps to the bakery in the suburb of Imbakh, he was stopped by a car,” Obeidi recounts.

The story, drawn up by Asharq Al-Awsat from various sources, shows that a masked passenger got out of the car, pointed a gun at the child’s head, and forced him into the vehicle in order to “struggle with the mujahedeen.” That same evening, the child was shot during clashes with army forces on the western front. He is now being held in the custody of investigators in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, security sources say that dozens of children from Derna, aged between 13 and 17, have been kidnapped by ISIS in order to make up for the shortage of fighters in recent weeks.

In an effort to avoid criticism, Haftar stressed that the LNA should maintain discipline in the war and hand over terrorists to the relevant military authorities.

This comes at a time when some forces opposed to Hatfar’s presence in the future of Libya are trying to add confusion to the already chaotic country, by targeting the principle economic resource, the major oil refineries in the northeast.

These developments also coincided with the activity of terrorist cells that are trying to deal blows to the LNA, especially on the fronts of Sirte in the north and Barak Beach in the south, in addition to Benghazi and Derna.

In this context, a senior officer believed that hindering the work of Haftar in general is the political agreement, which was signed between the Libyan opponents in the Moroccan city of Skhirat in late 2015.

This agreement established a power parallel to that of parliament, which was forced to work from the town of Tobruk in the far east of Libya.

The Skhirat Accord created a new authority headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, called the Presidential Council of the Accord Government, and the Supreme Council of the State, which includes a portion of the former parliamentarians (the so-called National Congress), most of whom were not re-elected by Libyans in 2014.

The two councils operate from Tripoli under the protection of a mixture of soldiers and heavily armed militias, and they oppose Haftar.

The Sarraj government operates without any legislative authority, and without any parliamentary control.

Since the beginning of 2016 and Sarraj’s arrival in Tripoli to implement the Skhirat agreement, the political situation has become complicated and difficult to resolve, as evidenced by attempts by regional countries, including Egypt and the UAE, and several international sponsors, most recently French President Emmanuel Macron late last month.

Military victories in Benghazi led to the rise of Haftar’s popularity at the local and international levels.

The LNA commander visited countries, where he was not previously accepted. He warned politicians late last year that their differences should be resolved, otherwise the LNA would have to take action to protect the people’s interests.

Some voices also called on him to run for president.

The United Nations has been pushing Libyan authorities to hold presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of the year and an agreement has been reached between the rival Libyan parties to hold them in December.

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