Haftar vows attacks on Turkish assets in Libya - GulfToday

Haftar vows attacks on Turkish assets in Libya

Libya-Street

Cars and vehicles drive past a local government building in Gharyan, Tripoli, on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Khalifa Haftar has threatened to attack Turkish interests in Libya after suffering a serious setback in his push to take the capital Tripoli, accusing Ankara of backing his rivals.

Anti-Haftar forces supporting Libya’s internationally recognised government announced on Wednesday that they had retaken the strategic town of Gharyan in a surprise attack, seizing the main supply base for Haftar’s months-long offensive.

Haftar on Saturday promised a “tough response” and accused militias backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord of executing his wounded troops at the town’s hospital − allegations refuted by both the GNA and authorities in Gharyan.

Dozens of pro-Haftar fighters were killed in the clashes some 100 kilometres south of the capital and at least 18 taken prisoner, a GNA spokesman said.

Media correspondents who toured Gharyan were shown signs of the hasty retreat of Haftar’s forces, who left behind their wounded, a command post, arms, ammunition − and even food burning on stoves.

“The speed (of the attack), the surprise element and the revolt (of local residents) sowed fear” in the ranks of Haftar’s fighters, General Ahmad Bouchahma, a senior GNA officer, said on a tour of the area.

In retaliation for the setback, Haftar ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) to target Turkish ships and companies, ban flights and arrest Turkish nationals in the country, his spokesman said.

General Ahmed Al Mesmari accused Ankara of “directly” intervening in the battle “with its soldiers, planes and ships.”

He accused Turkey of assisting GNA forces in seizing Gharyan, including providing air cover, and accused the town’s residents of “treason.”

Mesmari, said the country had “come under illegitimate Turkish aggression” in recent weeks.

“Turkey has become directly involved in the battle (for Tripoli), with its soldiers, planes, sea ships and all the supplies that now reach Misrata, Tripoli and Zuwara directly,” Mesmari said.

He said Turkey had helped push the LNA out of the town of Gharyan, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Tripoli. The town was a key supply route for Hifter’s forces pushing toward the capital.

Turkish forces also bombed LNA positions and provided air cover for militias allied with the Tripoli-based government to retake the town, he said.

The LNA, which holds eastern Libya and much of the country’s south, seized Gharyan on April 2, and two days later launched its offensive on Tripoli.

But their initial lightning advance was quickly brought to a standstill in Tripoli’s southern outskirts as militias backing the GNA rushed to defend the capital.

Both sides accuse each other of using foreign mercenaries and receiving military support from external powers, despite a UN arms embargo on Libya that has been in place since the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that overthrew Muammar Qadhafi’s regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed his country’s support for the GNA, saying Ankara was providing weapons to Tripoli under a “military cooperation agreement”.

He told reporters on June 19 the Turkish backing had allowed Tripoli to “rebalance” the fight against Haftar.

On Saturday, Erdogan, speaking on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan, said he did not have “any information” concerning Haftar’s threat against Turkish assets.

“If there is an order like this from Haftar, my colleagues will study (it). We have already taken the necessary measures regarding this anyway, and after this, we will take much more different measures,” he said.

Since the fall of Gharyan, Haftar’s forces have carried out several air raids on Tripoli as GNA fighters push to keep up pressure on the LNA.

On Friday, GNA militias claimed they launched another succesful offensive, this time in Esbiaa, more than 40 kilometres south of Tripoli.

But Mesmari said the attack was repulsed after a “very violent battle.”

Mesmari said orders had been given to the LNA “air force to target Turkish ships and boats in Libyan territorial waters.”

“Turkish strategic sites, companies and projects belonging to the Turkish state (in Libya) are considered legitimate targets by the armed forces,” he added.

Agence France-Presse