Libya's Haftar pledges to take imminent control of Benghazi and Tripoli
Libyan general Khalifa Haftar said on Friday he has given himself two weeks to take control of Benghazi and three months to capture the capital Tripoli.
Haftar independently launched attacks on militias in the eastern city of Benghazi beginning in May but was recently reintegrated to the Libyan army by the House of Representatives (HoR).
Haftar returned to Libya in 2011, after nearly 20 years living in the US, to join rebel forces in toppling Muammar Gaddafi, under who he served as an army general until the late 1980s. He is allied closely with the HoR, which was popularly elected in June but ruled illegal by Tripoli’s Supreme Court earlier this month.
The HoR is based in the eastern town of Tobruk, after being forced to abandon sitting in Benghazi due to an ongoing battle for the city between Haftar and various militias.
On Friday Haftar pledged to launch a full-blown assault on Tripoli, which was seized control of by the Misratan Led Alliance (MLA) of Libya Dawn in August, after a spate of recent air attacks on the city.
"For Tripoli we are only at the beginning," he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. "We need more men and more supplies and weaponry."
"I have given myself three months, but maybe we will need less. The Islamists of Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) are not difficult to fight, no more so than the Islamic State at Derna," the eastern town beyond government control where some militants have pledged allegiance to the IS group who control swathes of Syria and Iraq.
"But the priority is Benghazi," Haftar said. "The Ansar al-Sharia is battle-hardened, that takes more work, even though we control 80 percent of the city and we are pushing forward," he added.
Benghazi was the cradle of the 2011 revolution but has become a battleground between militias and forces allied to Haftar. Ansar al-Sharia have a strong presence in the city and are a group designated as terrorists by the US.
Haftar wants the HoR, internationally recognised as Libya’s legitimate parliament, to sit in Benghazi as previously planned. "I have given myself a deadline of 15 December," he said.
Haftar described the General National Congress (GNC) as an “illegal assembly where the Islamists want to turn back history”. The GNC – which was replaced by the HoR after the June elections – reconvened in August, after Libya Dawn took control of Tripoli, and appointed a “national salvation” government.
Amidst Libya’s civil war rumours of regional intervention have grown in recent months, after four unnamed US officials told the New York Times the UAE, from Egyptian airbases, had bombed Libya Dawn forces in Tripoli – allegations denied by both Abu Dhabi and Cairo.
Haftar did not reveal whether he was receiving outside help in bombing Libya Dawn but admitted weapons have been given to his forces by regional allies.
"Egypt, Algeria, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia have sent us arms and ammunitions, but only their older technology,” he said.
Haftar ended his interview on Friday by warning of the danger facing Europe if militant groups, including Ansar al-Sharia, were to prevail in Libya.
"The real danger comes from the fundamentalists who want to impose their will everywhere. If Ansar al-Sharia takes power here, the threat will come to you in Europe, in your houses.”