Haftar’s heavy losses before GNA attacks, a qualitative shift in the Libyan conflict

The balance of power on the ongoing battles in Libya between the forces of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and militias of Khalifa Hafter, supported by Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, France and Russian mercenaries, are now changing in favor of GNA.

The battle is currently changing in favor of GNA which has achieved major victories over the past few days while the militias of Hafter have suffered heavy losses, which will greatly affect the country’s field situation within the coming period.

Operation Peace Storm launched by GNA forces since last Wednesday in response to the ongoing violations of the truce by the Hafter militias, may succeed in imposing a new operational reality on the ground, enhancing the influence of the Tripoli government.

The fall of the strategic Al-Watiya air base (140 km southwest of Tripoli) is a considered a remarkable qualitative shift on the ground that will have negative repercussions for the Hafter militias that have been controlling the base since 2014.

The Al-Watiya base, which has recently been seized by the GNA forces, is the largest military base in the area extending from west Tripoli to the Tunisian border, and it was the center of command of the operations of Hafter militias in the west, where the operations of bombing Tripoli and various combat fronts in the western region were led.

The significance of Al-Watiya base lies in the fact that it was a focal point for the Hafter militias coming from Benina Air Force Base, in the city of Benghazi (one thousand kilometers east of Tripoli), and the Al-Jafra Air Base (650 km southeast of Tripoli), and that it can accommodate 7,000 soldiers.

In his first statement after the success of the attack, Fayez al-Sarraj, the GNA Prime Minister, said: “We affirmed that we will respond to the ongoing violations of the truce.”

At least 53 fighters loyal to Hafter were killed last Friday in Al-Washka to the west of Sirte, including senior officers. Another 16 were killed in southern Tripoli and eastern Rashfana, while 12 others fell in a raid at Al-Watiya  Air Base to the west of the capital, as militias loyal to General Khalifa Hafter in Libya have been suffering heavy losses in the ongoing battle for the capital, Tripoli.

The casualties arose after Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) fought back against Haftar’s militias which have broken the ceasefire repeatedly, killing many civilians in Tripoli. The GNA used drones supplied by Turkey to bomb the militias while ground troops advanced. Among the dead are Major General Ali Sidi, and Commander Saber Al-Mutahar.

GNA forces destroyed or captured armored vehicles and equipment from the rebel troops. Local sources also report that prisoners were taken by the GNA at Al-Watiya  before the army withdrew under fire from foreign Arab air forces which back Haftar.

It is a week since Haftar’s militias suffered a major setback when GNA forces attacked Al-Watiya  Air Base and captured 27 militia members, including pilots and technicians. The stated intention was to paralyze the base rather than control it. Senior officers loyal to Haftar were killed, including Ahmad and Muhammad Al-Haddad Al-Rajbani; other victims have not been identified.

Medical and military sources among the Haftar forces involved in the fighting have claim that only 70 mercenaries and militia fighters have been killed up to now. Casualties were taken to the Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte, where medical facilities were overwhelmed treating the wounded soldiers and fighters from the Sudanese Janjaweed militias supporting Haftar. The mercenaries’ wages are apparently being paid by an unnamed Gulf State.

Late March 2020, Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) launched a military operation against the forces loyal to Benghazi-based warlord Khalifa Haftar, the GNA Press Centre has announced. Haftar has been trying to seize control of the capital Tripoli since April last year, backed by the UAE and Egypt.

Operation Peace Storm was launched in response to Haftar’s repeated violations of the ceasefire and attacks on civilians in Tripoli. On Monday, heavy shelling by Haftar’s forces killed at least five civilians in the city.

GNA forces have seized full control of Al-Watiya Airbase in the south-west of Tripoli and captured some militia fighters, explained Osama Al-Juwaili, the commander of the Operation. The airbase is the most important strategic military base after Mitiga. Haftar militia took control of Al-Watiya in 2014.