(Source: Reuters – Hani Amara and Ayman al-Sahli) – Libyan forces aligned with Tripoli government capture key air base
CAIRO (Reuters) – Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognised government took control of an air base south-west of Tripoli on Monday after a sustained assault, in what could be their most significant advance for nearly a year.
Watiya air base, 125 km (80 miles) from the capital, has been an important strategic foothold for forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April 2019.
The campaign sharply escalated a long-running conflict between factions based in eastern and western Libya and caused a surge in military intervention by foreign powers.
Forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) had taken full control of Watiya, Osama Juweili, a top military commander, was quoted as saying by official media early on Monday.
Footage posted by GNA forces on social media showed them driving down runways at the base unhindered. The forces also posted a picture of what they said was a captured Russian-made Pantsir air defence system mounted on a truck at the base, as well as an operating manual in Arabic.
In a statement, the LNA said its forces had withdrawn from the base as a tactical manoeuvre, that Watiya currently held no military importance, and that any equipment recovered there was old and disused. LNA sources said earlier their forces had withdrawn after the base had come under intensive bombardment.
The LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia, has been unable to make significant progress from the outskirts of Tripoli since early on in its campaign.
Photo © A rocket launcher vehicle is seen after fighters loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government took control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020, Reuters, Hazem Ahmed, as published in ibid