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Libya’s GNA Captures Strategic Watiya Base

Libya’s GNA Captures Strategic Watiya Base

Tuesday, 19 May, 2020 - 05:45
A rocket launcher vehicle is seen after fighters loyal to the GNA took control of Watiya air base, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. (Reuters)
Cairo – Khaled Mahmoud

In a surprise development that will change the Libyan political and military scene, the Government of National Accord, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, declared that it had captured the strategic Watiya air base on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli.

For the first time in the conflict, Turkish warships, aligned with the GNA, took part in the battle to capture the base from the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Sarraj, who considers himself the supreme commander of the armed forces, announced on Monday the “liberation of the Watiya base from criminal militias and terrorist mercenaries.” The base is the latest addition to the western coastal cities that have been liberated by the GNA, he added.

He said this victory was “not the end of the battle, but it does bring the great day of victory when all cities and regions are liberated closer.”

An LNA official confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a Turkish warship had helped the militias loyal to the GNA capture the base. The vessel has been anchored off the coast of Zuwara since the militias had started amassing their forces to attack Watiya, which is located 140 kilometers southwest of Tripoli.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he acknowledged that the warship tipped the battle in the GNA’s favor.

The LNA has yet to issue an official statement over the development, but military sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the troops had been ordered to pull out from the base because defending it had become “impossible.”

The forces began retreating to the city of Zintan and the al-Rajban area on Sunday.

“It was no longer possible to resist the attack. We were losing four or five men a day for ten consecutive days,” he revealed, saying that the advanced rockets used by the warship made seeking safety in shelters useless.

The GNA said the complete capture of Watiya was “quick, calculated and without losses in its forces.”

GNA military spokesman Mustafa al-Majai said the development was the “beginning” of “broader and more comprehensive” military operations, in what appeared to be a sign that Sarraj plans to advance on Tarhuna city.

He stated his forces will use Watiya for future operations.

Watiya is the largest and most important military base in western Libyan. It spans 10 square kilometers and boasts massive military infrastructure that can accommodate 7,000 troops. The GNA is hoping the capture of the base will lead to the LNA’s eventual withdrawal from regions south of Tripoli.

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