The army behind Libya’s UN-backed government has announced a counteroffensive to defend Tripoli, vowing to reclaim all areas seized by forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar, who have been marching on the outskirts of the capital.
Colonel Mohamed Gnounou told reporters in Tripoli on Sunday that the counteroffensive, dubbed “Volcano of Anger”, was aimed at “purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces”.
The announcement came as Haftar’s forces said they conducted the first air raid on a Tripoli suburb as part of their aim oust the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and control Tripoli.
The alleged strike came after GNA forces launched air raids on Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) around 50km south of Tripoli on Saturday, reportedly killing one person.
Meanwhile, Tripoli residents, fearing that large-scale fighting could break out, have begun stocking up on food and fuel.
Libya has struggled since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi which left dozens of militia to fill the void and ally with either the GNA or the rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
On Sunday, the US military said it had temporarily pulled some of its forces out of Libya amid the upsurge of fighting in the North African country.
“Due to increased unrest in Libya, a contingent of US forces supporting US Africa Command temporarily relocated from the country in response to security conditions on the ground,” it said in a statement.
It did not detail how many military personnel had been withdrawn from Libya.
US Africa Command, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, said its mission in Libya involves “military support to diplomatic missions, counterterrorism activities, enhancing partnerships and improving security across the region”.
It said it would “continue to monitor conditions on the ground in Libya and assess the feasibility for renewed US military presence as appropriate”.
“The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,” said US Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of US Africa Command.
“Even with an adjustment of the force, we will continue to remain agile in support of existing US strategy.”
On Saturday, the head of the GNA accused Haftar of “betraying” him after the latter launched his military offensive on Tripoli.
In a televised speech, Fayez al-Sarraj said Haftar’s forces would meet firm resistance from forces loyal to the GNA.
“We have extended our hands towards 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. He also warned of “a war without winners”.
Al-Sarraj and Haftar held talks in Abu Dhabi in late February, their first confirmed meeting since November 2018, during which they agreed that national elections were necessary, according to the UN.
“They also agreed on ways to maintain stability in the country and unify its institutions,” the UN Libya mission said in a Twitter post after the Abu Dhabi meeting.