General Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar – press photo
CAIRO – 29 June 2018: The General Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar, announced on Thursday the liberation of the port city of Derna, the final militant stronghold outside of his control in eastern Libya.
"We proudly announce the liberation of Derna, a city dear to all Libyans," Haftar said in a televised speech. “We salute on this happy occasion the people of Derna … and those who have been demanding revenge against terrorism and the eradicating of it.”
He promised residents a "new era of freedom, security and peace".
The LNA launched its liberation battle on May 7 to seize the city, a coastal town of nearly 150,000 people, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of Tripoli.
Derna had been held by a ragtag alliance of Islamist and jihadist militias, including groups close to Al-Qaeda hostile to both Haftar and the Islamic State group.
Story of Derna’s liberation
The LNA deployed its forces on the entrances of Derna and launched frequent attacks on the Islamist militants until they controlled several parts of the city.
“The LNA advanced towards the enemy's bases in Derna imposing harsh blockade on the terrorist groups,” Khalifa al-Obeidi, head of the LNA’s media office, said earlier this month in a press release of which Egypt Today obtained a copy.
The advance followed heavy shelling and air strikes in recent weeks by the LNA in preparation for a ground campaign in Derna.
Afterwards, the LNA forces entered Derna from both the eastern and western coastal roads and took control of the Shiha and Bab Tobruk districts, advancing to within one kilometer of the port, one of the operation’s commanders, Salem al-Rafadi, told Reuters.
Photos shared by a resident appeared to show soldiers and military vehicles advancing along largely deserted streets.
The LNA has long encircled the city of 125,000, the last in eastern Libya to elude its control. It was held by the Derna Protection Forces, formerly known as the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, a coalition of Islamists and other anti-Haftar combatants.
In a televised speech, Haftar stressed that the army’s aim is to uproot terrorism, after terrorists had turned down all endeavors to avoid armed confrontation.
He directed the army to take into consideration the safety of Derna’s residents and their properties, except for those who carry arms and fight against the Libyan people.
“After four years of holy struggle against the Kharijites, we are close to the liberation of Derna," Field Marshal Haftar said, warning his soldiers from terrorists’ ambushes.
The LNA has repeated its calls for terrorist groups in Derna city to turn themselves in, promising them a “fair trial,” unlike those who will be arrested in possession of weapons and resisting forces.
In a press release, the LNA also assured that families of the terrorist will not be punished for their sons’ crimes.
Photos shared by a resident appeared to show soldiers and military vehicles advancing in Derna - press photo
Conflicting parties in Libya
Since the ouster of Libyan long-time leader Muammar Ghaddafi more than six years ago, the war-torn country draws wide international and regional attention, causing a serious threat on the national security of North Africa and Europe.
Libya, which is struggling to get through the critical political situation that it has been experiencing since 2011, is not only trying to unify its army, but is longing to revive its political functions by conducting presidential and legislative elections.
Egypt has hosted several meetings to bring the Libyan conflicted factions to the negotiations table to resolve the Libyan crisis and amend the Skhirat agreement, which aims at ending Libya’s civil war.
The major obstacle in the face of any international or Arab participation in ending the crisis in Libya is the lack of a Libyan partner that would support any involvement. Since 2014, there are two major factions on the ground, one led by Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, who now controls the eastern side of Libya and works in cooperation with the government of the House of Representatives, known as the Tobruk government. The other is led by Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord.
Therefore, there is no official side recognized by all parties in Libya, but there are two opposing factions, roughly equivalent in terms of power, competing for legitimacy. Nonetheless, neither side appears to be able to tip the scales of this conflict in its favor.