US moves troops out of Libya as fighting surges between rival military groups

'The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,' US commander says

Zamira Rahim
Sunday 07 April 2019 15:53
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Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, pose for a picture
Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, pose for a picture

US troops are being moving out Libya after a surge in fighting between rival groups left foreign powers scrambling to ensure the safety of their forces and peacekeepers in the country.

“The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,” Thomas Waldhauser, head of US Africa Command, said. “Even with an adjustment of the force, we will continue to remain agile in support of existing US strategy.”

He did not say where the unspecified number of US forces stationed in the country would relocate to.

The US decision came as rebel commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army mounted an offensive on the country's capital Tripoli.

The city is the seat of Libya’s government, which is supported by the United Nations and a number of militias.

Mr Haftar is instead aligned with a rival administration and parliament, located in eastern Libya.

The rebel commander’s forces claimed on Saturday, to have seized Tripoli airport, which has not been functional since fighting in 2014, and the area around it.

Fighting between rival groups continued at the site continued as Mr Haftar claimed to have launched air strikes on Tripoli’s outskirts.

Libya has been gripped by violence since 2011, when a popular uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi led to civil war and years of unrest.

Mr Haftar, a one-time army officer loyal to Gaddafi, spent years in exile in the US state of Virginia before returning and eventually declaring war on the country’s interim authorities in 2014.

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His surprise assault on Tripoli came ahead of peace talks, organised by the UN, which are to be held on 14 April.

The UN is due to withdraw all non-essential staff in the area, the BBC reported.

India has also relocated all 15 of its stationed peacekeepers from Tripoli, Sushma Swaraj, the country’s External Affairs Minister, said.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres struck a pessimistic tone after meeting with Mr Haftar last week.

“I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned. I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli,” he wrote on Twitter. “The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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