The Turkish-backed Libyan unity government seized two coastal cities west of Tripoli on Monday in a new blow to military commander Khalifa Haftar a year after he launched an offensive on the capital, AFP reported.
“Our forces took control of Sorman and Sabratha and are pursuing [Haftar’s forces],” said a statement by Mohammed Gnunu, spokesman for the forces of the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord.
An AFP video journalist saw pro-GNA forces in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns celebrating in central Sabratha, around halfway between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia.
Control of war-torn Libya is largely divided between pro-GNA forces and those of the eastern-based Haftar, who launched an offensive to try to capture the capital in the country’s northwest on April 4 of last year.
On their Facebook page GNA forces published images of Grad rocket launchers, 10 tanks and armored vehicles they said they had captured in the cities, which had been controlled by Salafist militias allied with Haftar.
Mohammad al-Gammoudi, a GNA commander on the ground, said Sorman and Sabratha had been seized after “six hours of fighting with air cover.”
Libya has suffered almost a decade of conflict since longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 uprising backed by several Western powers. Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and others have fueled fighting in the oil-rich but impoverished North African country.
The UN says hundreds have been killed and over 200,000 displaced since Haftar launched his battle for Tripoli, which quickly ground to a bloody stalemate.
The seizure of Sorman and Sabratha was the GNA’s most significant victory since June of last year, when its forces retook the town of Gharyan, the main supply base for Haftar’s forces southwest of the capital.
GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj said Monday that loyalist forces had repelled an attack by Haftar’s troops on Abu Grein, 250 kilometers (160 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
Several UN-backed attempts to reach a ceasefire have failed, and the UN has slammed repeated violations of a 2011 weapons embargo.