TUNIS (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces pulled out of parts of Tripoli overnight, they said, after losing one of their main strongholds in western Libya on Monday, in a major blow to their year-long campaign to seize the capital.
Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said the force had carried out a “redistribution and repositioning in the battle fronts, disengaging from some crowded residential areas”.
It has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations and has moved onto the front foot in the war since January with military help from Turkey.
The LNA, under Khalifa Haftar, is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt.
On Monday, pro-GNA forces took the Watiya airbase west of the capital after weeks of attempts, their biggest advance in a year that deprives the LNA of its only airfield near Tripoli.
After taking the base, they paraded what they said was a captured Russian-made Pantsir air defence system mounted on a truck, along with an Arabic manual.
Mismari said the base had been abandoned as part of a long-planned strategic decision and that only old, obsolete equipment was left there.
GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said on Twitter that “Haftar’s chance of success is now effectively zero” following his loss of Watiya.
(Reporting By Hani Amara in Istanbul, Ayman al-Warfali in Benghazi and Angus McDowall in Tunis, Editing by William Maclean)