‘Zero hour’: Libyan strongman eyes last militant stronghold in E. Libya as offensive kicks off

‘Zero hour’: Libyan strongman eyes last militant stronghold in E. Libya as offensive kicks off
The commander of the Libyan National Army, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, said on Monday his troops launched an offensive to liberate Derna. The besieged city has been under the control of an Al-Qaeda linked group since December 2014.

Haftar, who holds sway over almost all eastern Libya except for Derna, announced on Monday that the long-anticipated offensive to rid the city of jihadists that pledged allegiance to the Al-Qaeda affiliated Majahedeen Shura Council has begun.

“The zero hour has struck for the liberation of Derna,” Haftar said, adding that his forces have already entered the city and were dismantling the terrorists’ “bastions.”

The Shura Council is an umbrella group for Islamist militias that advocate imposing Sharia law in Derna. While it was initially formed to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) – which overran the city earlier that year – it has also been in opposition to Haftar.

Haftar announced the offensive during celebrations of the fourth anniversary of the counter-terrorism campaign in which his units took control of half the country, including Benghazi – a hotbed of Islamist militancy and center of the uprising against the government of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The marshal spoke at a military parade in his second public appearance since returning to Benghazi on April 26, after a two-week absence during which he reportedly received medical treatment in Paris.

Haftar’s Lybian National Army [LBA] is aligned with a government and parliament in eastern Libya, forming one of the two major power centers – the other being the rival UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which controls much of western Libya.

The LBA has been backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Last May, Egypt carried out airstrikes in Libya targeting Derma in coordination with Haftar forces in response for the massacre of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

READ MORE: Egypt carries out new airstrikes in Libya – commanders

Libya has been in a state of turmoil since 2011, when a NATO bombing campaign helped rebels to overthrow Gaddafi. Militants exploited the power vacuum, with sporadic clashes breaking out between various factions. The nation has also been riddled with economic problems and has become a transit point for refugees attempting to reach Europe.

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