On Libya's front lines, Sirte is focus for regional rivalries

By Ayman al-Warfalli SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - In Sirte's municipal offices, walls are adorned with pictures of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army. Out in the desert, troops keep watch from behind sandbanks

Reuters August 21, 2020 00:10:33 IST
On Libya's front lines, Sirte is focus for regional rivalries

On Libyas front lines Sirte is focus for regional rivalries

By Ayman al-Warfalli

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - In Sirte's municipal offices, walls are adorned with pictures of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army. Out in the desert, troops keep watch from behind sandbanks.

Already scarred by Libya's 2011 uprising and an Islamic State takeover, Sirte now finds itself not only at the centre of a civil war but also a focus of geopolitical enmities that span the region.

Since Turkish intervention helped drive Haftar's LNA back in early June from its 14-month offensive on the capital, Tripoli, the front lines have settled around Sirte, in the middle of Libya's Mediterranean coast and close to major oil terminals.

"The city has seen wars and crises that have made people afraid," said Adel Mohamed, a 43-year-old resident shopping in a local supermarket in the city of 90,000. "There is always anxiety about what is to come."

Libya's civil conflict pits the LNA and its allies against forces aligned with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, in the west.

As the GNA and Turkey looked ready to make further advances, Egypt declared Sirte a red line and pushed through parliamentary approval for possible military intervention.

In recent weeks Libyan factions and their foreign backers have been mobilising as diplomats try to avert a military escalation and secure a ceasefire.

On a rare tour of LNA military positions, Reuters reporters saw troops stationed at positions southwest of Sirte, some sheltering under awnings or in tents, others manning watchpoints.

"Our armed forces are stationed around Sirte, even beyond Sirte. We are prepared," said Mohamed Shaqlouf, head of the LNA's operations centre in the area.

"Our fingers must remain on the trigger until Libya is purified from mercenaries and colonizers, and from everyone who has greedily sought our land and its riches."

During a visit to Tripoli this week, Germany's foreign minister echoed a U.S. call for a demilitarized zone around Sirte and Jufra, a military base to the south. He also warned of a "deceptive calm", with both sides and their allies continuing to arm themselves "on a massive scale".

FOREIGN MEDDLING

Foreign powers have been involved in Libya since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ended Muammar Gaddafi's four decades in power. But in recent months the meddling has reached new levels.

While Turkey has considered using military bases in western Libya, the U.S. has accused Russia of sending fighter jets and military supplies to help Russian private contractors.

Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), has said the deployment of mercenaries has turned oil installations into "military posts", and accused the United Arab Emirates - one of Haftar's main backers - of upholding a blockade that for the last eight months has all but halted the oil production Libya depends on.

Russia has rejected U.S. statements about its alleged military intervention, and the LNA denies it uses mercenaries.

"We have no one with us. No Russians ... nothing," said Shaqlouf, the LNA commander.

The UAE says it supports a diplomatic solution to the conflict and wants to see a return of Libya's oil production as soon as possible but with safeguards in place.

UAE authorities did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Thursday.

Major oil terminals in Libya's Oil Crescent east of Sirte, repeatedly fought over and damaged in recent years, remain blockaded under LNA control.

Sirte itself is still partly in ruins from the battles of 2016 when GNA forces pushed Islamic State from the city where the jihadist group had set up its North African stronghold.

The seaside neighbourhood that saw the heaviest fighting lies in ruins, abandoned. Elsewhere, shops and cafes are open, and the city does not suffer the crippling power cuts of other regions thanks to a power station nearby.

Abdelaziz Abdelrahim, a 27-year-old butcher's shop employee, said there were still cash shortages, but fewer than before the LNA took control of Sirte in January.

"More attacks on Sirte? We say God willing, no."

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.