After years of threat of military force, eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar instructed his troops on Thursday to progress to the capital Tripoli, accelerating a conflict with the internationally acknowledged government.
Looking forward to surround the capital, his forces approached from the south and west, taking one town south of the city before halting for the night some 60 km (37 miles) south of Tripoli.
The attack observed a significant rise of a power struggle that has dragged on in Libya since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The capital is the eventual prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government. In 2014 he put together former Gaddafi soldiers and in a three-year conflict captured the main eastern city of Benghazi, then in 2019 took the south with its oilfields.
The United Nations was taken aback by the attack. Its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres flew to Tripoli on Wednesday to help arrange a reconciliation national conference.
On being asked about the attack, Guterres stated that Libya needed a political, not a military, solution. His Libya envoy Ghassan Salame was sitting next to him stone-faced with arms folded.
Guterres remained in the secured U.N. compound on Tripoli’s outskirts for the night and plans to meet Haftar on Friday. However, there was no indication that the east was eager to stop an action that was declared by Haftar in a speech full of discussions about victory.
Armed groups from the coastal city of Misrata, who dismiss Haftar, marched to Tripoli to protect it. The assault started with the seizing of Gharyan, a city some 80 km south of Tripoli after a brief conflict with forces allied to Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.