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Balance of Power Shifts in Libya

On May 18, 2020, the Government of National Accord (GNA), Libya's internationally recognized government, captured the strategic al-Watiya airbase from troops loyal to Khalifa Haftar. Following this stunning defeat, Haftar has lost two towns near the Tunisian border and has been forced to withdraw from parts of Tripoli.

The loss of al-Watiya airbase is devastating operationally, strategically, and symbolically to the Libyan National Army. The installation has served as one of the main stronghold for Haftar's forces in western Libya, and undoubtedly will have a major impact his year-long campaign to seize the capital from the GNA. Haftar must now reorganize his entire force in western Libya, altering the way in which troops are supplied and moved from one position to another if he wishes to succeed.

Furthermore, al-Watiya served as a major hub for LNA combat aircraft in the region. Although Haftar's forces were able to seemingly withdraw all functional equipment before the base's capture, finding a new home for these platforms to operate out of will prove difficult for the renegade commander, as most other air facilities have been decimated by a decade of endless conflict.

As for the Government of National Accord, the capture of al-Watiya is important for two main reasons. First, it allows its units to focus on pushing LNA fighters out of southern Tripoli, and allows it to truthfully claim that Haftar is now on the run.

To the casual observer, it may seem odd that the GNA has suddenly proven effective at defeating Haftar after over a year of consistent failure. A deeper analysis of publicly available evidence indicates that the GNA's success is not random, but undoubtedly tied to increasing support from the Republic of Turkey. Each of the GNA's recent victories have been centered around the utilization of Turkish drone and air defense systems. Unless Haftar can regain air superiority, and specifically target these assets, his defeats will continue to mount. Meanwhile, Russian, Emirati, and Egyptian support for the LNA has proven largely ineffective at shifting the tide of the campaign.

Conflict has gripped the nation since 2011, when Muammar Gaddafi was killed in a popular uprising. The current war is the result of in-fighting between the Tripoli-based GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the House of Representatives allied to Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA).


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