Libya's unity govt says 'foreign air force' hit key base

Monday July 06 2020

Fayez al-Sarraj (right), Prime Minister of Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) receives Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, in the Libyan capital Tripoli on July 3, 2020. PHOTO | AFP


Libya's UN recognised government Sunday condemned overnight air raids against a recently recaptured strategic air base in the west of the country, alleging they were carried out by a "foreign air force".

Forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) seized back the Al-Watiya airbase, 140 kilometres southwest of Tripoli, from troops aligned with eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar in May this year.

Haftar's forces allege Turkey -- a key GNA backer -- has subsequently made use of the base to help GNA loyalists to repel an offensive the strongman launched against Tripoli in April last year.

"The raids last night against Al-Watiya base were carried out by a... foreign air force in support of the war criminal in a miserable and desperate attempt to achieve a morale boosting victory" for Haftar's forces, GNA deputy defence minister Salah Namrush said in a statement.

A "response, in the right place and at the right time" will serve as a future deterrent for such acts, Namrush added, without specifying which foreign air force was suspected to be behind the raid.

Citing military sources, pro-Haftar media had earlier said the raids were carried out by "unknown planes" that targeted a Turkish aerial defence system installed at Al-Watiya.


These sources were also quoted as saying Turkish soldiers deployed at the base had suffered casualties.

But Turkey's state news agency Anadolu, quoting an unnamed GNA military official, said the raid against Al-Watiya was carried out by "unidentified planes" and that there were no casualties.

"Materials recently deployed to reinforce anti-aerial capacities were damaged," Anadolu added.

It was not possible to independently verify the various claims.

Plunged into chaos by the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi, oil-rich Libya has two rival administrations.

Haftar's forces are backed by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

His fighters withdrew from the southern outskirts of Tripoli and the entire west of the country in June after a string of battlefield defeats to the Turkish-backed GNA.