The situation in Libya is accelerating quickly and unexpectedly. Most importantly, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander Khalifa Haftar released a voice recording late Wednesday, ordering his forces deployed at the outskirts of Tripoli to launch a wide-scale military operation in the capital that falls under the control of militant groups allied with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
The LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari outlined the objectives of the operation in a press conference Thursday, claiming the international community will support “liberating Tripoli” from the chaos of the armed groups controlling the capital.
This escalation comes in line with the ongoing preparations by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to hold the National Forum that aims to gather rival Libyan parties and discuss a political solution to the outstanding crisis.
The LNA’s operation may be an attempt to present the conference with a fait accompli, forcing the divided country to accept Haftar as the de facto ruler with effective military control of a future unified civilian government.
On the ground
Media reports keep coming about the advancement of the LNA forces to the capital after they seized the city of Gharyan, about 80 kilometers south of Tripoli, but they failed to take a checkpoint about 30 kilometers west of the capital in an attempt to close the coastal road to Tunisia. Pro-GNA militiamen from the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, retook the checkpoint after what was described as a short exchange of fire.
For its part, the GNA-allied Tripoli Protection Force stressed that the areas from Aziziya to el-Sabeaa are under the control of the Tripoli local forces.
Some pictures were circulated on social media showing scores of captured LNA soldiers huddled together inside corridors. Al-Mismari confirmed on Friday that some LNA troops have already been captured during the operation. However, he asserted that the LNA will not stop until it achieves the objectives of the operation.
Tripoli on alert
The Minister of the Interior in GNA, Fathi Bashaga, ordered a general mobilization and announced a state of emergency in the capital.
He directed all the security and military agencies to counter any threat to the capital.
He also stressed that the ministry will take all legal and disciplinary measures against those cooperating with the assaulting forces.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health announced Thursday the state of emergency in the hospitals of Tripoli in anticipation of any clashes.
International calls to stop escalation
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has been in Tripoli this week to help organize a the national reconciliation conference planned for later this month, spent Thursday night in the heavily fortified U.N. compound in a Tripoli suburb, before flying to Benghazi. He also went to Tobruk to meet lawmakers in the House of Representatives, which is allied to Haftar.
As soon as the LNA marched on the western region, the U.N. chief called for de-escalation and renewed the call for a political solution.
“I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned. I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli. The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people,” Guterres said in a tweet late on Friday.
Meanwhile, the European Union, Russia, Canada, and U.S. called for a halt to the military escalation in Libya. The call was endorsed by France, Italy, and Britain.
Foreign ministers from the G7 held a meeting on Friday to discuss the situation in Libya.
Shortly before the summit began, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the G7 was monitoring the situation with a great deal of concern.
“Libya is likely to be at the heart of exchanges today and tomorrow. It will be looked at in detail, hopefully to allow us to move forward and avoid the situation getting worse,” a senior French diplomat said.
The U.K. also called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss the escalation.
Libya is not only a transit country for migrants on their perilous sea journey to Europe, but also a major exporter of oil to Europe and a major importer of European commodities. It is equally important to its six African neighbors who want a stable Libya to avoid any terrorists or weapons coming from there.