In western Libya, anti-Haftar fight against "new Gaddafi"

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At twenty, Mohamad is in his second war: in 2016 against the Islamic State group, today against Marshal Haftar. A native of Misrata, the key town of the Qaddafi revolt in 2011, he wants to prevent a "new dictator" from coming to power.

Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has been away since April 4 to conquer the Libyan capital Tripoli, is accused by his rivals of wanting to establish a new military dictatorship.

"Hundreds of fighters have died to get rid of Gaddafi and we will do everything to ensure that these sacrifices were not made in vain," Mohamad said.

The young man is torn. Today he fights, perched on a pickup equipped with a machine gun. But, under the pressure of his father, he will have to go home in a week to study in Malaysia.

"I want to stay here, I'm told that the war will not stop with my departure, but if everyone says the same thing, there will not be anyone left on the front," he says.

The young man is part of an armed group from Misrata, a town 200 kilometers east of Tripoli, which took part in the fighting against the Islamic State (IS) group in Sirte in 2016.

"And now, Haftar comes to say that he wants to rid the west of the country of terrorism, where was he when we were fighting IS?" He said.

Libya is mainly divided between two rival authorities: in the west, Fayez al-Sarraj's national unity government (GNA), recognized by the international community and based in Tripoli, and in the east the Libyan National Army (ANL) self-proclaimed by Marshal Haftar.

While many militias fighting the ANL forces south of Tripoli are loyal to the ANG, not all of them are explicit. Mohamad and his companions are primarily defined as anti-Haftar fighters.

"We will chase him to his stronghold" of Benghazi, in the east of the country, assures Hicham Abdallah, also from Misrata. "His fighters are fleeing every shot, they are scared."

Behind them floats a thick fog, a mixture of dust and smoke that escapes from a burning truck in the middle of a dry grass meadow that also burns.

In al-Hira, at the foot of the mountain of Jebel Nefoussa, armed groups from several western cities have managed since the beginning of the counter-offensive Saturday to repel the forces of Haftar for several kilometers.

They claim to have cut off the road between Tripoli and its rear base in Gharyan, about 100 kilometers southwest of the capital.

– "For the homeland" –

"We are moving towards Gharyan, we will soon end this despot, we will continue to Rajma," the Haftar headquarters in Benghazi, launch a commander of Zentan (west), one of the first cities to have risen against the regime of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Its forces are trying to hold a security checkpoint they have just taken at the ANL, less than twenty kilometers from Gharyan. But bursts of shells and machine gun fire forced some vehicles to back up.

The bullets whistle for a few minutes, a plane flies over the area. The atmosphere is tense. But, galvanized by their victory of the day, the fighters maintain their position. By a miracle, without any injuries.

"We are going to win because our cause is right, we are fighting for the homeland, but they (the pro-Haftar) are fighting for one person," said Khalifa Derdira, 30, from Zentan. "We will not let him destroy Tripoli," he adds.

But the evil seems already done in several districts of the southern suburbs of the capital, where so far the fighting has concentrated 272 dead, nearly 1,300 wounded and more than 30,000 displaced according to a final assessment of the World Organization of health.

Al-Aziziya, 50 kilometers south of Tripoli, is a ghost town. Located halfway between the capital and Gharyan, it was deserted by its inhabitants after heavy fighting.

On the main avenue, littered with shells and cases of shells, the clashes left gaping holes in some walls. The iron curtains of the shops were blown or twisted.

"This is the result: Haftar is determined to destroy the whole country and bring us back decades," said Khalifa Derdira. But he promises that "his fate will be worse than that of Gaddafi", killed in October 2011 in troubled circumstances, shortly after his capture after eight months of conflict.

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