Forces allied with Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) government in Tripoli say they have captured al-Watiya airbase, 125 kilometers south of Tripoli.
This is a significant setback for Haftar forces, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) troops have been fighting for over one year to take control of the capital and to oust the GNA government.
Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the GNA, confirmed yesterday the capture of the airbase. Al-Sarraj said that the airbase joined “liberated towns in western Libya” and brought “us closer to the day of the big victory”.
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The fall of al-Watiya aribase showed confusion and a lack of coordination among LNA forces.
Turkish drones were key in the capture of the airbase, analysts argue. Al-Watiya airbase fell after weeks of GNA airstrikes, despite deployment over the weekend of two Russian Pantsir air defense systems.
This event is expected to have a significant psychological impact on the LNA forces, who had believed they had the backing of a motivated alliance of states with strong military commitment.
General Haftar, who controls most of the country including the majority of oil fields and pipeline, has the backing of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Russia, Egypt, and France.
The Tripoli government is instead backed by Turkey, which has supplied drones and air-defense systems and sent hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to join the fight.
This year’s intensification of Turkish military support for the GNA has helped the Tripoli government to shore up its defenses and seize the towns of Surman and Sabratha in western Libya. Turkey is likely to soon turn al-Watiya into a permanent base.
LNA’s forces remain on the outskirts of Tripoli and attacks have intensified in recent weeks.
GNA forces have also attacked the LNA-allied village of Tarhouna near Tripoli.