Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government said on Friday they entered Tarhuna, the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive.
There was no immediate comment from Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) on whether its forces remained in the town, a day after they were pushed from their last positions in the capital, Tripoli.
Turkey’s backing has helped the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) win a string of victories in recent weeks, ending an assault on Tripoli that led to battles in its southern suburbs and the bombardment of the city centre.
Tarhuna was the main launchpad for the offensive against the capital that Haftar’s forces finally abandoned this week.
The GNA operations room said in a statement its forces had reached the centre of Tarhuna after entering from four sides.
“Our heroic forces entered the city of Tarhuna from four axes and reached the city centre … and they gave the Haftar terrorist militia a lesson they will not forget,” said Mohammed Gnounou, a GNA military spokesman, in a statement.
Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident of Tarhuna, said GNA forces had entered the town.
Libya’s conflict is far from over, however, with the LNA still controlling the country’s east, where there is a parallel administration, and large parts of the south, where the country’s main oilfields are located.
The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The United Nations has warned a recent flood of weapons and fighters to both sides in Libya risks a major new escalation.
Mostafa al-Majai, another GNA military spokesman, said government forces entered Tarhuna without fighting after the LNA pulled out of the city into the desert.
“No reprisal acts have taken place inside the city. A large number of residents left it days ago. This has made it easy to establish security there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Haftar’s forces confirmed their “redeployment” away from the Libyan capital following the UN-recognised government’s announcement it is back in full control.
On Thursday, the Government of National Accord said it had retaken the whole of Greater Tripoli, finally beating off an offensive Haftar’s forces launched in April last year.
Haftar’s spokesman, Ahmad al-Mesmari, said the redeployment was a “humanitarian gesture intended to spare the Libyan people further bloodshed”.
Hundreds of people have been killed and 200,000 more driven from their homes since Haftar launched his assault vowing to “cleanse” the capital of the “terrorist militias” he said dominated the GNA.
Al-Mesmari said the redeployment was also intended to bolster the work of a UN-backed military commission tasked with shoring up a nationwide ceasefire.
“We announce that we are redeploying our forces outside Tripoli on condition that the other side respect the ceasefire,” he said in a statement released late on Thursday.
“If they do not respect it, we will resume military operations and suspend our participation in the negotiations of the military committee.”
The United Nations’ Libya mission said on Tuesday that after a three-month suspension, the warring parties had agreed to resume ceasefire talks.
A military commission made up of five GNA loyalists and five Haftar delegates held talks in February, but the dialogue was suspended.
Haftar is supported by neighbouring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Russia.
UN experts in April said hundreds of mercenaries from Russian paramilitary organisation the Wagner Group were fighting for Haftar.