Over a month into the battle for Libya’s capital, Tripoli, General Khalifa Haftar and his troops are determined to “uproot” their enemy and continue their offensive during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
It was April 4 when forces loyal to Haftar that make up the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) launched a deadly campaign to conquer Tripoli, where the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is based.
Haftar, who commands the LNA, urged his troops in a message late Sunday to teach unity government forces a “greater and bigger lesson" as the holy fasting month begins.
“Officers and soldiers in our armed forces and the auxiliary forces, I salute you in these glorious days and urge you with your strength and determination to teach the enemy a greater and bigger lesson than the previous ones, as we’ve always known you to do, till we uproot it from our beloved land,” Haftar said in the message, read out by LNA spokesman General Ahmad al-Mesmari.
"In the event of a retreat by the enemy, troops should pursue it with speed and force, prevent it from fleeing and wipe it out" with support from LNA air forces, the message included.
Haftar further said Ramadan had not been a reason to halt previous battles against what he claimed as “terrorism” when he seized the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna during clashes in 2017 and 2018.
“Ramadan is the month of jihad,” he said. “Our battles against terrorism in Benghazi and Derna did not stop in the holy month of Ramadan but we increased our determination and strength in this holy month.”
Haftar’s message came just hours after the United Nations mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for "an extendable one-week humanitarian truce" starting at 4:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Monday to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan.
As the UNSMIL issued the truce statement, artillery shelling could be heard coming from the southern outskirts of Tripoli, where the LNA has been trying to breach defenses by the GNA forces.
The UN has warned against the "continuing deterioration" of humanitarian situation in the country.
Libya has been divided between two rival governments, the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk and the GNA in Tripoli. Haftar, 75, who enjoys the loyalty of a group of armed militia and backing from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has taken upon himself to protect the government in Tobruk. Armed forces and militia loyal to the GNA have been fighting back.
US President Donald Trump, in a phone call with the military strongman last month, "recognized Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources," according to the White House.
The LNA has almost two-thirds of the country and all oilfields under its control, and some observers see the West's urge to court Haftar driven by their thirst for Libya's oil.
The United Nations has characterized Haftar’s push on Tripoli as an attempted coup and warned of a serious upshot.
Since April 4, fighting has killed at least 432 people, wounded 2,069 and displaced more than 50,000, according to the UN.