CAIRO (AP) — Forces allied with Libya’s UN-supported government said Monday they have wrested control of a key military base on the outskirts of the country’s capital from their rivals trying to capture Tripoli.
The development is a heavy setback for the eastern-based forces under commander Khalifa Hifter, who has been waging a campaign for over a year to take Tripoli from an array of militias in the west, loosely linked to the administration in the capital.
Col. Mohamed Gnounou, a spokesman for the Tripoli-allied forces, said they retook the al-Waitya airbase in the city’s southwestern desert reaches. He did not provide details. A spokesman for Hifter’s forces was not immediately available for comment.
The Tripoli-allied forces have been trying for weeks to take the base, stepping up attacks by Turkish-supplied drones.
Hifter’s forces have sustained heavy losses in recent weeks. In April, Tripoli-allied forces seized control of the city of Sabrata and the town of Sorman, west of Tripoli.
The escalation in the fighting comes despite increased international pressure on both sides to return to negotiating a political settlement and to halt the violence over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Libya has reported at least 65 cases of the virus, including three deaths.
Hifter’s push on Tripoli has mostly stalemated but the turmoil in the oil-rich country has steadily worsened as foreign backers increasingly intervene — despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.
Turkey has sent armored drones, air defenses and more recently Syrian militants with links to extremist groups to prop up the embattled Tripoli government. Russia, meanwhile, has deployed hundreds of mercenaries to boost Hifter’s assault. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt also back Hifter.
Image: In this May 21, 2019 file photo, Tripoli government forces clash with forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, south of the capital Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Hazem Ahmed, File)