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
0

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BENGHAZI: The United States has temporarily withdrawn some of its forces from Libya due to “security conditions on the ground,” a top military official said Sunday as a Libyan commander’s forces advanced toward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He did not provide details on the number of US troops that have been withdrawn or how many remain in the country.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.


In letter to UN Security Council, Britain says Iran approached tanker in Omani waters

Updated 1 min 32 sec ago
0

In letter to UN Security Council, Britain says Iran approached tanker in Omani waters

  • Letter says the Iranian action “constitutes illegal interference”
  • Tells UN Britiain was working to resolve the issue through diplomatic means

NEW YORK: Britain told the United Nations Security Council on Saturday that a British-flagged tanker seized by Iran was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters and the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
“The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law,” Britain’s UN mission wrote to the Security Council. “International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference.”
The letter, seen by Reuters, was also sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Friday’s action in the global oil trade’s most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation after three months of confrontation that has already taken Iran and the United States to the brink of war.
It follows threats from Tehran to retaliate for Britain’s seizure on July 4 of the Iranian tanker Grace 1, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
“Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate. We do not seek confrontation with Iran,” the letter read. “But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.”
Britain called on Iran to release the Stena Impero tanker and told the Security Council it was working to resolve the issue through diplomatic means.