The top commander of the Libyan army’s special forces said on Monday his troops had joined forces with general Khalifa Haftar, who has launched an American backed campaign to purge the North African country of militant Islamists. “We are with Haftar,” Wanis Bukhamada told Reuters in the eastern city of Benghazi. On live television he had earlier announced his forces would join “Operation Dignity”, as Haftar calls his campaign. An air base in Tobruk in Libya’s far east also said it had joined Haftar’s force.
Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s assaulted the Libyan parliament in Tripoli Sunday and Islamist strongholds in Benghazi last week, at the head of a group of former Libyan soldiers and assorted militias, backed by the US and United Arab Emirates.
Haftar’s forces launched an attack on Islamist militants in Benghazi last Friday in which more than 70 Islamists died. Hafter loyalist forces, firing Grad surface rockets, truck-mounted antiaircraft guns and mortars, inflicted heavy casualties on the Islamist forces controlling Benghazi.
Sunday, with the fighting still raging in Benghazi, another Hafter force struck 650 km to the east, to overrun parliament in Tripoli, which he accused of being strangled by extremist Islamist entities
In Tripoli, Hafter’s forces gained important support from the large Al-Saiqa force, made up of former commandos and paratroops of the Libyan army, and the al-Qaaqaa Brigade, formed by Western Libyan soldiers who defected from the army.
They put the radical Islamists to flight and replaced them with a 60-member constituent assembly. Whatever he calls it, Hafter is leading a military revolt in Libya. His spokesman Sunday denied that the operation was a coup and insisted the force was “fighting by the people’s choice.”
Ministers and high officials of Libya’s government, which stopped functioning after the last prime minister fled the country last year, refused Monday to recognize the new ruling body and called on Islamist militias in Tripoli to go to war on their new would-be masters.
American entities are supplying the Hafter force with funds and intelligence, sources in Abu Dhabi are providing them with weapons, or money for the purchase of weapons on Libya’s flourishing arms market.