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Timeline by Djordje Djukic, with additional reporting by Evan Centanni
Mapping Control in Libya as Proxy War Escalates
Since the time of our previous Libya control map report last month, the country’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has continued to gain ground in the west amid a major withdrawal of the rival Libyan National Army (LNA). The GNA’s gains have been achieved with extensive support from Turkey, in the form of thousands of Turkish-allied Syrian rebel fighters as well as many Turkish-provided drones, in what the UN has called “the largest drone war in the world“. Meanwhile, the LNA now has its own allied Syrian fighting force, brought in to support Russian private military contractors (PMCs), who are widely claimed to have the full support of Russia’s government.
• Libya (English)
• Lībyā (Arabic)
• State of Libya (English)
• Dawlat Lībyā (Arabic)
Timeline of Events
The following is a detailed timeline of major political events and changes to territorial control since our previous Libya map report of April 22, 2020.
April 23, 2020
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) claimed its forces captured a region north of the city of Tarhuna, which is controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA).
April 25, 2020
GNA warplanes and drones bombed LNA positions at the Al-Watiya airbase, reportedly killing 14 soldiers.
April 26, 2020
Both the LNA and the GNA made small advances in the southern outskirts of Tripoli.
April 27, 2020
Khalifa Haftar, military leader of the LNA, made an announcement appearing to claim that he was taking personal control of Libya’s eastern government, whose civilian operations are led by his allies in the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). The move may have been intended as an attempt to prevent the HoR from negotiating a peace deal with the GNA without his approval.
Of Haftar’s three biggest international allies, Russia openly opposed his claim to power, while Egypt and the UAE made ambiguous statements. Various other international allies or neutral countries also voiced opposition, while the GNA and its allies Turkey and Qatar expressed strong condemnation. However, as of a month later military rule had never materialized, with Haftar “forced into negotiations” with the leader of the HoR by limited political support for his declaration.
May 3, 2020
The GNA made small advances in the southern outskirts of Tripoli.
May 4-10, 2020
Both the LNA and the GNA made small advances in the area surrounding Tripoli International Airport.
May 18-19, 2020
The GNA captured the Al-Watiya airbase near the border with Tunisia. The next day, following the capture of the airbase, GNA forces advanced south and entered three towns without resistance after reaching an agreement with the locals. However, an agreement was rejected in a fourth town and fighting erupted between the LNA and GNA.
May 20, 2020
The LNA announced it was withdrawing 2-3 kilometers from all of Tripoli’s frontlines to ease conditions for the city’s residents at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
May 21-23, 2020
The GNA captured two areas southwest and south of Gharyan respectively, including a town which lay along an LNA supply route to Tarhuna. It then proceeded to advance further south, entering six towns, including Mizda, after the LNA withdrew. This left the Zintan area almost surrounded, and GNA forces were 10 kilometers from cutting off the last supply route to the LNA’s Tarhuna stronghold. However, two days later the LNA, supported by Zintan’s local militia, recaptured Mizda and the surrounding area.
May 22-24, 2020
The GNA advanced into several districts south of Tripoli, capturing 10 areas, including a military camp. The next day, GNA advances continued as its forces seized six more areas, including three military bases, amid an LNA withdrawal from Tripoli’s southern frontlines. Later, the LNA managed to recapture one of the bases with heavy artillery support, but was pushed back once again soon after.
The GNA also advanced west of Tripoli International Airport during the day, reaching the outskirts of the facility. On May 24, two more areas were captured by the GNA on Tripoli’s southern outskirts. During the fighting in southern Tripoli, three Russian mercenaries were reportedly killed, as well as the first Syrian fighter out of some 450-2,000 who had been recruited and sent to Libya to support the Russian private military contractors (PMCs) of the Wagner Group. These Syrians, fighting on the side of the LNA, were a separate group from the Turkey-affiliated Syrians fighting for the rival GNA.
May 24-26, 2020
Wagner Group PMCs were reported to be withdrawing from Tarhuna towards Bani Walid, where evacuations of the PMCs had begun via the town’s airport. On May 25, the GNA reported hundreds had been evacuated, while overall 1,500 to 1,600 “mercenaries” were said to have withdrawn from Tripoli. The Russian PMCs reportedly were flown from Bani Walid to Jufra Airbase in central Libya.
On May 26, the US military stated that Russia had deployed fighter jets to Libya to support the Russian PMCs. The jets allegedly arrived from an airbase in Russia via Syria, where they were repainted to conceal their Russian markings, according to the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). The LNA denied that it had received new aircraft.
May 26-27, 2020
A GNA attack north of Tripoli International Airport was repelled, but a new assault resulted in a small advance the next day. During the same period, a GNA attack northeast of the facility was also repelled.
May 27, 2020
The recent GNA advances against the LNA were seen to be the result of the extensive use of attack drones provided by Turkey. Due to the large-scale use of drones by both sides, UN Special Representative to Libya Ghassan Salame called the conflict “the largest drone war in the world”.
Meanwhile, according to a secret UN report, around 20 PMCs, including five British mercenaries, had been sent to Benghazi in June 2019 as part of a contract organized by the UAE-based company Opus Capital Asset FZE. Their mission was reportedly to fly assault helicopters and use fast speed boats for the LNA to intercept and search merchant vessels transporting Turkish weapons to Tripoli. However, five days after their arrival, the group had made a 350-mile escape by sea to Malta in two inflatable boats after coming into conflict with Libyan forces it was intended to be working with.
May 29, 2020
It was reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) that 331 Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) fighters had been killed fighting for the GNA since they arrived in Libya, including 20 child fighters. Nearly 200 TFSA fighters had also deserted to Europe, while 27 were captured by the LNA. The SOHR put the number of fighters sent to Libya at 11,200, including non-Syrians. They reportedly included 50 former members of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL).
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Graphic of the Libyan flag is in the public domain (source).