Benghazi declared liberated, by Libya’s eastern commander Haftar
After years of fighting with terrorists, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has declared that his forces have “liberated” the eastern Benghazi city.
The city now enters a new era of “security, peace and reconciliation” said Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The news if confirmed, would mark a major advance for the one-time commander in the army of late strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
The UN backed government in Tripoli does not recognize the LNA. Unrest has engulfed Libya since the 2011 ousting of Gaddafi which saw extremist organizations, which included the so-called Islamic State, gain a foothold in the country.
Field Marshal Haftar in a televised speech on Wednesday, 5th July 2017 said that “after a continuous struggle against terrorism and its agents that lasted more than three years… we announce to you the liberation of Benghazi.”
The announcement comes after this week saw bloody battles in Benghazi’s Sabri district in which dozens of LNA fighters and various local Islamist militants died.
Pictures posted on social media show civilians in Benghazi and other parts of the country celebrating the end of a bitter conflict which had left large parts of the country’s second city in ruins and displaced thousands of people in recent years.
However Field Marshal Haftar also has many political and armed opponents in Libya.
The government in Tripoli is not recognized by Field Marshal Haftar and instead backs the authorities in the east.
Opponents of the commander who has backing from some foreign powers, have accused him of trying to impose autocratic rule in Libya.
Over the last three years Binghazi conflict at times has appeared to have no end in sight, and with its growth so too did the Field Marshal Haftar’s political and military ambitions.
This is a significant gain for him, and a city that has been aching for respite from the war.
There are largely divided opinions over the conflict in Benghazi; many will celebrate what they will be seeing as a war brought to their doorstep by Islamist militias at a time when political actors in Libya barely acknowledged there was a problem there, despite the daily bombings and numerous killings in the city.
Others will view this as a product by a man who is power hungry and has lumped up all of his enemies under the banner of “Islamist terrorists” in order to pave the way for a future political role through the might of the gun.
The short address which had been dedicated to the people of Libya had an unusually reconciliatory tone, however it is not one that will ease worries over what his, or his opponents’ next move might be.
In the current condition of Libya today, a military victory in one battlefield often opens the door to conflict in others.
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