Warlord Khalifa Haftar's illegal militia announces pulling out of parts of capital Tripoli overnight, after losing control of Watiya air base to UN-backed government in western Libya.

Members of Libya's internationally recognised government flash victory signs after taking control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020.
Members of Libya's internationally recognised government flash victory signs after taking control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. (Reuters)

Warlord Khalifa Haftar's forces pulled out of parts of capital Tripoli overnight, they said, after losing one of their main strongholds in western Libya on Monday, in a major blow to their year-long campaign to seize the capital.

The spokesman of Haftar-led illegal militia Ahmed al Mismari said the force had carried out a "redistribution and repositioning in the battlefronts, disengaging from some crowded residential areas".

The Libyan army on Wednesday destroyed a Russian-made air defence system used by forces loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar in the city of Terhune.

Abdul Malik Al Madani, spokesman for the government-led Volcano of Rage Operation, told Anadolu Agency that the Pantsir missile system, which was supplied to Haftar’s militias by the United Arab Emirates, has been demolished.

Images of an unmanned aerial vehicle of the Libyan army targeting a hangar were also shared on social media and in the local press.

It has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, the seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations and has moved onto the front foot in the war since January with military help from Turkey.

Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt.

UAE calls for ceasefire in Libya

The United Arab Emirates’ position on the Libyan crisis “has been firm and clear and shared by the majority of the international community," its minister of state for foreign affairs said on Wednesday.

Anwar Gargash said on Twitter that the only acceptable path forward involves an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire and return to the political process.

"This crisis has been going on for almost 10 years; Libyans will not have the chance to create a stable or prosperous country until combatants aim higher than tactical territorial gains.

"These are mirages of victory and no substitute for a political process," Gargash said.

The move came after the Libyan army destroyed three Russian-made Pantsir type air defence systems during the past 48 hours used by Haftar’s militants that were supplied by the UAE.

Libya's UN-recognised government earlier in end of April had also rejected a truce unilaterally called by warlord Haftar, saying it "did not trust" the announcement made by its eastern-based rival.

Since fighting began in April 2019, several ceasefires between Haftar's militias and the GNA have fallen through, with both sides accusing the other of violations.

"These violations make it so we do not trust truce announcements (from Haftar)," the GNA said in its statement.

GNA takes crucial air base

On Monday, pro-GNA forces took the Watiya air base west of the capital after weeks of attempts, their biggest advance in a year that deprives the Haftar militia of its only airfield near Tripoli.

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said on Twitter that "Haftar's chance of success is now effectively zero" following his loss of Watiya.

On Tuesday, it took the towns of Badr and Tiji in western Libya as the LNA said it had moved out of some positions in Tripoli, where the front lines have been mostly static for nearly a year.

Key air base

Watiya is seen as a key air base, second only to Mitiga Airport. 

It was captured in 2014 by Haftar's militia, who used it as his headquarters for attacks on the UN-backed government.

The government has been under attack by Haftar's militia since April 2019, with more than 1,000 people killed in the violence. 

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies