The Libyan Army Advances West of Tripoli
Over the last several weeks, the Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced west of Tripoli, as the Western Region Operations Room reached a series of truces with western cities and towns in the outer environs of the capital city. Since the armed takeover of the Libyan capital in the summer of 2014 by the Libya Dawn coalition, the LNA, which remains loyal to the exiled House of Representatives (HoR) government, has continued to fight against Libya Dawn along the outskirts of the city and the surrounding areas. Despite an initially successful army offensive in late March to retake several towns south of Tripoli, advances in recent months have stalled without significant gains by either side. The recent shift in momentum indicates a concerted effort by the LNA and its allies to consolidate their strength in preparation for an offensive to retake the capital city.
The LNA advance is spearheaded by a series of ceasefire agreements between local groups loyal to the LNA and the leadership of cities previously loyal to Libya Dawn, strategically establishing peace deals with municipalities surrounding the capital. On 11 June, after a week of negotiations, the pro-LNA stronghold of Zintan reached a ceasefire with the city of Gharyan, south of Tripoli, which supported the Tripoli-based government (the General National Congress [GNC]) and affiliated Libya Dawn militias. Leaders from Zintan and the pro-LNA town of Rajban signed an agreement similar to the Gharyan deal on 14 June with local leaders from the western cities of Jumayl, Riqdalin, Zaltan, and Assah. Yet another reconciliation deal was reached three days later on 17 June with previously pro-Dawn cities of Sabratha, Surman, and Ajaylat. These agreements allegedly allowed pro-LNA forces to enter and secure these cities,several of which has been strongly supportive of Libya Dawn. The accords shifted the majority of the population centers west of Tripoli into tacit if not explicit support for the HoR, while moving LNA forces closer to the Libya Dawn stronghold.
As pro-army leaders concluded local ceasefire agreements, LNA units advanced into Libya Dawn-held neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital. According to LNA statements, the army took control of the al-Najila district on 19 June and the Sawani area ( nearby the Tripoli airport) on 25 June. LNA-affiliated forces also clashed with the Halbus Battalion, a Libya Dawn militia from Misrata,in the Mashashta area near the Tripoli Ring Road on 24 June, attempting to break into the Libya Dawn stronghold of Janzour. These military advances indicate the LNA intends to expand its control to the outskirts of Tripoli.
The recent LNA advances have met with some resistance from Libya Dawn and the GNC. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the LNA met resistance in Sabratha from local Libya Dawn forces while attempting to enter the town on 19 June as per the ceasefire agreement. Similarly, clashes reportedly occurred when the LNA entered Ajaylat on 23 June. It is unclear whether the fighting in Ajaylat was caused by a Libya Dawn militia attack on the city or an LNA crackdown, but the fighting prompted a 25 June statement by the Army declaring that the local city government would punish individuals disobeying orders issued by the LNA’s Western Region Joint Operations Room.
The recent advances west of Tripoli indicates a shift in the LNA’s strategic calculus in the region. Much of this is likely based on the situation in Misrata, a coastal city that provides critical military and political support to Libya Dawn. Misrata-based militias have sought ceasefires and reconciliation talks with the LNA in the west independently of the Tripoli government and the city’s Municipal Council has increasingly chafed under the GNC’s attempts to limit the city’s autonomy. Misrata also criticized the GNC for failing to adequately deal with the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the city of Sirte.
The Tripoli government itself has also responded to the recent ceasefire deals and advances by the LNA. On 16 June, the GNC announced the formation of the “Samood” (Steadfastness) Front, a coalition of militias tasked with “securing the capital city.” The creation of this force, led by Libya Dawn commander Colonel Salah al-Badi, was clearly a reaction to the LNA advance, as the GNC moved to organize loyal militia forces in the city to defend the capital. The Samood Front is likely intended to also serve as a spoiler for the local truces. The militia coalition, led by Colonel al-Badi’s Fursan Janzour militia group, deployed its forces to the neighborhoods of Ghut al-Sha’al and Seraj on 21 June in reaction to a declaration by LNA commander Colonel Maadi that the army would enter the Janzour neighborhood, base of Fursan Janzour, in anticipation of the LNA offensive.
The Libyan National Army continues its advance into the outer suburbs of the capital even as it attempts to win over local leaders weary of the continuous fighting in the country. Its current positions place its forces nearer to the city center than they have been at any time since the takeover by Libya Dawn in 2014. As the GNC and Dawn forces attempt to reorganize to resist the offensive, internal divisions have inhibited their ability to sustain a defense of the city. The size and composition of Tripoli make it difficult to fully control, as many neighborhoods have their own militias with their own agendas, some of whom fight have pragmatically fought with Libya Dawn but may now prefer to seek a peaceful settlement with advancing LNA forces. While the current push is not likely to quickly take full control over the capital, it shows that the momentum in the west is swinging in favor of the army and the pro-HoR factions, and may pressure other local municipalities to seek a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
(This article was originally published by Libya Security Monitor, @LibyaSecMonitor)