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Khalifa Haftar, Rising Power Amid Libya's Chaos

Khalifa Haftar, Rising Power Amid Libya's Chaos

Saturday, 6 April, 2019 - 10:00
Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, arrives to attend an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
Tripoli- Asharq Al-Awsat
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are battling to seize the capital Tripoli, is widely seen as a hawk hunting for greater power in violence-wrecked Libya.

White hair framing his stark black eyebrows, the 75-year-old former army officer presents himself as Libya's savior in the face of a growing militant threat.

But his opponents accuse of him of seeking to establish a new military dictatorship in the oil-rich North African country.

A key player in Libya since it spiraled into chaos after the ouster and killing of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Haftar groups all of his opponents under two labels: "terrorists and mercenaries."

His self-proclaimed Libyan National Army launched an offensive this week to take Tripoli, seat of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Vowing to "cleanse" the country of militants, Haftar's forces pushed hardline militias out of the eastern city of Benghazi in 2017 after a deadly three-year battle dubbed "Operation Dignity".

To reaffirm his military clout, he quickly launched a successful operation to oust Islamist militias from the city of Derna, which had been the only part of eastern Libya out of his control.

Capitalizing on that success, his forces in January launched a new offensive into the oil-rich desert south, ostensibly aimed at wiping out "terrorists" and criminal groups.

They quickly overran the region's largest city and a major oil field without a fight, before turning their sights on the capital this month.

Originally from Cyrenaica in Libya's east, Haftar took part in the 1969 coup which brought Gadhafi to power.

He served in Gadhafi's armed forces but fell from grace when he was captured by troops from Chad during Libya's ill-fated 1978-1987 conflict with its southern neighbor.

After more than two decades living in the United States, in 2011 he returned home to take part in the uprising against Gadhafi.

Three French troops were killed in a 2016 helicopter crash in Libya while on an intelligence gathering mission for Haftar's forces.

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