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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Khalifa Haftar fails to woo Tripoli militia kingpins

The Field Marshal's limited progress comes against a united opposition

Misrata forces loyal to the internationally recognised government arrive in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of Tripoli. AFP.
Misrata forces loyal to the internationally recognised government arrive in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of Tripoli. AFP.

Dressed in a Dolce & Gabbana sweatshirt and what appeared to be Chanel espadrilles, Haithem Tajouri sat at the rear of a pickup truck firing off rounds towards the forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

As commander of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, one of the capital’s all-powerful militias, forces like Mr Tajouri’s have run the city in recent years, while extending control of its financial institutions.

Of all of the militiamen who have ruled Tripoli with their tight grip in recent years, Mr Tajouri was seen as among the most likely to defect to the Field Marshal’s Libyan National Army as it advanced on the capital last week.

His lack of ideological motivation, desire to protect his considerable wealth and alleged secret meetings with LNA leaders in the past were among the reasons why this belief was held.

Instead, footage and images emerged over the weekend of Mr Tajouri mingling with his men and involved, at least minimally, in the fight. His attempt to show off his loyalty to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and to fellow allied fighters, appeared to underline the limited LNA advance and its failure to entice many to defect to its cause.

Five days after peacefully taking the town of Gharyan 80 kilometres to the south of Tripoli, the LNA offensive has struggled to make headway further into the capital.

Its spokesman said the Field Marshal’s forces were intent on eliminating terrorism and ridding Tripoli of its militias but instead the LNA has managed to provoke many foreign powers and the United Nations.

International condemnation has quickly grown from urging a cessation to hostilities by some, to directly calling on Field Marshal Haftar and the LNA to stop the attack. Some are desperately clinging to the glimmer of hope that a UN-brokered national conference next week, that was supposed to forge a way to peace, might still somehow lead to a ceasefire.

At least 25 people have died and 50 more been injured in the clashes, according to the health ministry of the UN-recognised GNA. On Monday morning, shelling just missed the capital’s sole functioning airport in the east of the city.

It appears the LNA overestimated its ability to force alliances with west Libyan forces and underestimated their strength.

Unintentionally, ‘Operation Tripoli’ has actually pushed north west Libya’s multiple armed groups together where before they were opposed to or at least ambivalent towards each other.

Parts of Zintan and all of Misrata, home to some of Libya’s most battled-hardened fighters, announced they would protect the capital from the LNA. Forces in Zawiya to the west of Tripoli said they captured some 128 LNA fighters last week.

Both the LNA and the GNA forces have bolstered their forces in a sign that there will be no letting up in hostilities. Each has engaged in aerial assaults via their limited air forces and called in back up in preparation for a prolonged operation that would devastate a city of over one million as attitudes harden and civil war looms once more.

Updated: April 8, 2019 08:03 PM

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