US pulls forces from Libya as fighting approaches capital Tripoli

Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, pose for a picture as they head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi. (Reuters)
Updated 08 April 2019
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US pulls forces from Libya as fighting approaches capital Tripoli

  • Small contingent of American troops has been in Libya in recent years
  • India also evacuated a small contingent of peacekeepers

BENGHAZI: The United States has temporarily withdrawn some of its forces from Libya due to “security conditions on the ground,” a top military official said Sunday as a Libyan commander’s forces advanced toward the capital of Tripoli and clashed with rival militias.
A small contingent of American troops has been in Libya in recent years, helping local forces combat Islamic State and Al-Qaeda militants, as well as protecting diplomatic facilities.
“The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,” said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of US Africa Command. “Even with an adjustment of the force, we will continue to remain agile in support of existing US strategy.”
He did not provide details on the number of US troops that have been withdrawn or how many remain in the country.
Footage circulating online showed two apparent US Navy transport craft maneuvering off a beach in Janzour, east of Tripoli, sending up plumes of spray as American forces were ferried from the shore.
India also evacuated a small contingent of peacekeepers. The Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said the country’s 15 Central Reserve Police Force peacekeepers were evacuated Saturday from Tripoli because the “situation in Libya has suddenly worsened” and fighting has moved into the capital city.
The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, launched a surprise offensive against the capital last week, a move that could potentially drag the country back into civil war. Libya has been gripped by unrest since the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. In recent years, the country has been governed by rival authorities in the east and in Tripoli, in the west, each backed by various armed groups.
Fayez Sarraj, head of government in Tripoli, accused Haftar of “betraying” him.
“We have extended our hands toward peace, but after the aggression that has taken place on the part of forces belonging to Haftar and his declaration of war against our cities and our capital ... he will find nothing but strength and firmness,” Al-Sarraj said Saturday in televised comments.
Sarraj and Haftar held talks in Abu Dhabi in late February, their first confirmed meeting since November 2018, when they agreed that national elections were necessary, according to the UN
Haftar is seeking to capture the capital and seize military control of the whole country before UN-sponsored talks due to start next week that were designed to set a time frame for possible elections in the oil-rich country.
The UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, said the UN is determined to hold the planned conference.
Fighting was underway Sunday at the international airport, some 24 kilometers (15 miles) from central Tripoli, after Haftar claimed to have seized the area. The airport was destroyed in a previous bout of militia fighting in 2014. Haftar said his forces had launched airstrikes targeting rival militias on the outskirts of Tripoli.
The rival militias, which are affiliated with a UN-backed government in Tripoli, said they had also carried out airstrikes, slowing Haftar’s advance.
Armed groups behind the UN-backed government of national accord, or GNA, have announced an effort to defend Tripoli, vowing to recapture all areas seized by Haftar’s forces.
Col. Mohamed Gnounou, a spokesman for GNA forces, said in televised comments Sunday that the counteroffensive, dubbed “Volcano of Anger,” was aimed at “purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces.”
The two sides reported that at least 35 people, including civilians, had been killed since Thursday.
The Health Ministry of the Tripoli-based government said in a statement that at least 21 people, including a physician, were killed and at least 27 wounded. Ahmed Al-Mesmari, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces, said Saturday that 14 troops had been killed since the offensive began.
The fighting has displaced hundreds of people, the UN migration agency said. The UN mission to Libya called for a two-hour cease-fire on Sunday in parts of Tripoli to evacuate civilians and the wounded.
The LNA is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia. It answers to the authorities based in eastern Libya, who are at odds with the UN-backed government.


Spain considers playing Super Cup in Saudi Arabia

Updated 39 min 4 sec ago
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Spain considers playing Super Cup in Saudi Arabia

  • Proposal will be made at the federation’s general assembly next week

MADRID: The Spanish soccer federation is looking into the possibility of playing the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia beginning next year.

Federation President Luis Rubiales said Wednesday playing in the Middle East is one of the options being considered for the tournament, as well as a “final four” format with the top finishers in the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey.

The competition has been played in a one-game final between the champions at the beginning of the season. The idea is to play the new Super Cup in January.

The proposal will be made during the federation’s general assembly next week.

Rubiales did not confirm reports the deal will be worth €30 million ($33 million) a year for six seasons, saying “it will be difficult” to reach that value.

The federation president, one of the main critics of the Spanish league’s idea to play a regular-season match in the US, said the decision would take into consideration the players’ health, noting that playing in Saudi Arabia would not affect them as much as if the game was played in the US or Asia, where travel time and time differences were greater. Last year’s final, won by Barcelona against Sevilla, was played in Tangier, Morocco.

This year’s Italian Super Cup was played in Saudi Arabia as part of a multi-year deal worth more than €20 million ($22 million).  The Spanish players’ association, which complained about the Spanish league’s attempt to play in the US, did not oppose the idea of playing in Saudi Arabia.

“We weren’t against playing in the United States, what we wanted at the time was to be consulted about the idea and to give our opinion,” association president David Aganzo said Wednesday at an event organized by Europa Press. “If the proposal for the Super Cup is good for the players, we won’t have a problem with it.”

The Spanish league had to scrap the game in Florida after Barcelona, which would have faced Girona, backed down because of the lack of consensus among the parties involved. The league said it will try playing abroad again next season.

There is also a plan by the federation to reduce the number of games in the Copa del Rey to help clear up the calendar and keep teams from playing too many matches. The competition would include single elimination matches in some rounds, instead of a two-leg series. The proposal is also expected to be presented in next week’s general assembly.

“The clubs and the players want less official matches in the calendar,” Rubiales said.