The Head of Libya’s UN-backed unity government announced an operation to tackle the Islamic State and condemned unilateral efforts to move on IS’s stronghold of Sirte, as Libyan army forces amassed in the east.
Marking just 30 days since sailing into Tripoli, Prime Minister Faiez Serraj called on the Defense Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to initiate a purely Libyan plan to liberate Sirte.
“We have already begun to develop a strategy… to end this scourge and to eliminate them by Libyan hands, not through any kind of foreign intervention,” he said in a seven minute speech from the capital.
Echoing comments made the day before, he warned armed groups from moving on IS without the coordination and sign off from the GNA.
“We will not allow the battle to liberate Sirte to become subject to political bargaining and immediate gains,” he told.
The statement came as Libyan military forces under General Khalifa Hiftar, who has been fighting a two-year war against extremists in the eastern city of Benghazi, announced a new operation dubbed “Gardabia 2” to liberate the city from IS.
Military officials speaking from the oil town of Ajdabiya told Libya Channel some 7000 troops were gathering there, claiming that the battle would begin within 48 hours.
“4000 soldiers are already now in Ajdabiya, other 3000 are arriving meanwhile, there are many MEG 23 fighters on standby for when the operation begins,“ claimed Akram Bouhlaiga, spokesperson for the Ajdabiya operations room.
Over 700 soldiers were also stationed southwest of Sirte, he told.
“The attack is supposed to start within 48 hours. Military wise, it is impossible to determine a time frame for the battle, but the estimated time is a month maximum to liberate Sirte,’ he added.
It came amid reports Misratan forces, loyal to armed coalition Libya Dawn that is the sworn enemy of Hiftar, were mobilizing in the west of Sirte near Abu Grain, ready to make their own push.
Hiftar’s forces confirmed that there was “no coordination with Misrata” neither was there intention for one as “Misrata is the number one backer of the islamic militias.”
In the light of this Serraj’s Presidency Council warned on Thursday any attempts by these opposing sides to move on Sirte could result in “descent into civil war”. It urged all sides to refrain from making unilateral decisions without the consent of the GNA, adding that attempt to do so would be illegal.
“The PC expresses its concern that the battle for the liberation of Sirte could turn into a confrontation between these military forces,” it said.
“Therefore the PC asks all military forces to wait… and unite the efforts under the leadership of the PC… Any infringement of this order will be considered against military law and an obstruction to the efforts to close ranks against Isis,” it told.
On Friday Serraj reiterated these points in his keynote speech addressing all armed factinos.
“We salute the honorable sons of the nation who have fought and are still fighting these groups in Benghazi, Derna, Sidra, Sabratha and other cities of Libya. Our war is not names or loyalties to persons or intellectual and political parties, but a war on behalf of Libya, and loyalty only to our homeland, ” he told.
The PM also urged the recognized parliament, the House of Representatives, to “complete its task as Libya’s sole legislative body” and vote on the GNA.
Since the creation of the GNA following a December UN-authored peace deal, it has suffered from the lack of official endorsement from the parliament, which it needs to function legally.
Despite this the GNA moved to Tripoli and began working, taking over the ministries of foreign affairs, youth and sports, planning and religious endowment.
The vote has been repeatedly scuppered by hardliners who fear transfer of power west and the possible demotion of Hiftar, due to Article 8 in the peace agreement which endows the GNA with the power to appoint military leaders.
Lawmakers in the parliament told Libya Channel the next attempt of the official vote would take place next Wednesday.
Nonetheless Serraj pressed ahead with work saying Friday that the GNA is implementing a set of vital measures.
“This includes payment of late wages, providing liquidity, raising limit of foreign currency transfers as well as opening letters of credit for imports of goods,” he told.
“We have also started procedures to provide urgent medical supplies and services and to address energy shortages,’” he added.
It is not clear how Serraj’s administration will push forward amid the deepening political and now military crisis.
Officers in Ajdabiya told Libya Channel they would continue with the new offensive despite the GNA’s threats.
“The unity government doesn’t exist on the ground even in Tripoli. The only legitimate power in Libya right now is the parliament, which they are not approved by,” Bouhlaiga told.
“Let people people speak about what they want, in the end, we will march to Sirte and liberate it no matter what is being said. We are the ones achieving victories, and we will continue.”
Political divisions continued to deepen when members of the defunct General National Congress a parliament resurrected by armed coalition Libya dawn when they took over Tripoli in 2014, issued a statement claiming they were still the legitimate legislature.
The missive condemned the GNA’s take over of the capital’s buildings and maintained it was still functioning, despite its leaders disappearing.
Serraj warned on Thursday that internal conflicts threatened the country’s unity and sovereignty.
“The challenges still facing us are real,” he said, adding that he had high hopes for the support of the Libyan people to overcome them.