(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
While forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have been busy battling to eradicate ISIS in Sirte, General Khalifa Haftar continues to dismiss calls to unify his forces in the fight against the extremist group, and instead is focusing on waging war against his enemies in Derna and Benghazi.
The rogue general’s self-proclaimed “Libyan National Army” (LNA) has been involved in armed conflicts in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna, despite announcing over a month ago that his forces would be the ones liberating Sirte from ISIS extremists.
It has been reported that Haftar’s militia carried out airstrikes on a number of locations in the eastern city of Derna this week, including on the city’s port and a public stadium near the western entrance of the city.
In May, Haftar launched Operation Volcano in Derna, which has been viewed as an extension of Operation Dignity, to allegedly liberate the city from terrorism and Islamist control.
Operation Dignity was launched in May 2014 by Haftar to eradicate Islamists from Libya, who he considers to be terrorists and his enemies
Derna’s Shura Council has openly opposed Haftar, and in April claimed that they were able to drive out ISIS from the city without his help. Reportedly. one of the reasons why Haftar has launched a war against the eastern city, despite the fact that the Derna Shura Council has maintained that they are not affiliated with any terrorist group, is because he aims to establish full control in eastern Libya as political leverage.
Haftar has placed Derna under siege since May to allegedly block Al Qaeda, in which he has accused the Derna Shura Council as being loyal to, and Ansar Al Sharia’s movements in and out of the city.
In addition, Haftar’s forces in Benghazi are currently in the process of battling against extremist groups in the eastern region of the city, specifically in the al-Saberi neighbourhood and Souq al-Hoot.
Despite UN envoy Martin Kobler’s calls for a ceasefire in Benghazi, Haftar’s forces continue to engage in clashes with other armed groups in the city.
Furthermore, the LNA has announced that it would not permit any ministry or institution loyal to the GNA to establish authority in Benghazi before the unity government gains approval from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR).
The UN has been trying to negotiate an agreement between the warring parties in Benghazi to a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure the evacuation of civilians and the injured.
Attacks on residential areas in Benghazi intensified during the past few weeks, including several mortar attacks on the Benghazi Medical Centre.
Moreover, instead of battling against ISIS in Sirte, Haftar has positioned his militia around several oilfields in the Marada and Zilla basins.
It is unclear why Haftar still has not launched an offensive against ISIS in Sirte, and in an interview with French news channel iTele two weeks ago, the controversial general said it was “unthinkable” for eastern Libyan forces to join the GNA until its armed wing has been disbanded, and also said that ISIS did not have the capacity to fight against his militia, but that his operation against the extremist group could take time.
What is clear is that Haftar aims to consolidate his power and influence in the east, which he can use to either prevent unity or to gain some leverage over the GNA in order to have control over the military as Defense Minister.