Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has recaptured the strategic town of Bani Walid in the country’s northwest from the forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
The latest development comes a day after the UN-recognised government seized the city of Tarhuna, Haftar’s last stronghold in northwestern Libya, which was used as the main launchpad against the capital, Tripoli. Friday’s defeat inflicts serious blows to Haftar’s 14-month offensive to capture Tripoli.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said Bani Walid was handed over to the GNA peacefully.
“Life to a great extent is normal in Bani Walid,” he said, speaking from Tripoli. “The government forces entered the town without any fighting because of the cooperation of the elder’s council, the mayor and the civilians with the government forces.”
Haftar’s forces, he added, left the town before the GNA forces approached the northern borders of the town.
The GNA is now setting its sights on Sirte, the hometown of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and has announced a new offensive to recapture the city by deploying reinforcements around the Abu Grein area, Abdelwahed said.
“The military move on the city of Sirte came after peaceful talks to hand over the city failed,” he said. “We are also getting reports that the government air force in Abu Grein targeted UAE military-supplied vehicles for Haftar’s forces.”
In March, the Libyan government launched Operation Peace Storm to counter attacks on the capital and recently regained strategic locations, including the al-Watiya airbase, in the country’s west.
Turkey’s military support, particularly its drone force, to the GNA seems to have turned the tide against Haftar forces in recent months.
But analysts say the GNA’s military gains do not mark the end of Libya’s war but a return to the status quo before the launch of the Tripoli offensive last year.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) still controls large swaths of territory in the east, where there is a parallel administration, and large parts of the south, where the main oil fields are located.
Hundreds of people have been killed and another 200,000 driven from their homes since Haftar launched his assault last April, pledging to “cleanse” the capital of the “terrorist militias” he said.