The dislodging of fighters loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar from al-Watiya Air Base west of Tripoli suggests a reversal of fortune for the would-be leader of Libya, who began his offensive against the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in April 2019. This latest military setback follows the ousting of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) from the coastal towns of Sabratha and Sorman in mid-April, both located about 70 kilometers from the seat of the GNA.
Taken together, these victories reveal how vital Turkey’s military assistance has been to the GNA, which includes anti-aerial defenses and Anka-S offensive drones that have stripped away Haftar’s air superiority.
Until recently, the LNA’s steady advance towards Tripoli, including the capture of the strategically important petroleum port of Sirte, seemed to suggest an inevitable victory for Haftar and the competing government of the House of Representatives, based in the eastern city of Tobruk. Haftar attempted to declare a unilateral ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following these defeats in late April, which was rejected by the GNA, claiming they could not trust Haftar’s promises due to prior truce violations.
The crisis in Libya has drawn in a number of international players supporting either side of the conflict, in violation of an arms embargo signed in Berlin in mid-January.
Making matters worse, the presence of COVID-19 has forced the war-devastated country into lockdown, which, combined with ongoing offensives, has disrupted access to medical services and placed more than 250,000 children at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles.