Haftar: We Will Enter Tripoli Sooner Rather Than Later – Al Marsad

AL MARSAD EXCLUSIVE: The Libyan National Army Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, said in a special interview with Independent Arabia that the army was fighting according to a precise military plan that prioritizes the safety of the civilian population in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and it’s institutions and facilities. Al Marsad published here an exclusive English translation of the interview. 

“Our goal is for the Libyan citizen to live with dignity on his land, and to build his country to suit his aspirations without any external interference, or internal threat. Entering the capital does not mean the emergence of a new ruler, but the beginning of a new era in which Libyans can fold the tragedies of the past, turn a new page, forget their hatred, and roll up their sleeves to build a New Libya” — Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar

[Libya, 5 November 2019] – Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar said in the interview published by Independent Arabia that Tripoli is a city of more than two million inhabitants who have been “managed by terrorist groups when the Libyan National Army (LNA) had been preoccupied in fighting its battles against terrorism in the city of Benghazi for four years, in addition to the battles to liberate Derna, the Oil Terminals, Central and Southern Libya.”

“Over several years, these groups have been able to accumulate large quantities of weapons of various kinds, and receive unstoppable foreign backing from countries that support terrorism. The so-called Presidential Council provides them with massive funds and weapons from the state treasury. These militias and armed groups have exploited the residential neighborhoods where they have deployed ammunition stores to prevent them from being bombed. Moreover, the Presidential Council spent hundreds of millions to bring in thousands of mercenaries to fight alongside its militias. In order to avoid the destruction of Tripoli neighborhoods, and ensure that its inhabitants are not harmed, all these groups had to be lured to the outskirts of the capital so that the LNA troops engage with them away from the residential areas. We succeeded in this strategy of attrition and inflicted heavy casualties in their ranks. These militias and armed groups are collapsing now,” Haftar confirmed.

“In order to avoid the destruction of Tripoli neighborhoods, and ensure that its inhabitants are not harmed, all these groups had to be lured to the outskirts of the capital so that the LNA troops engage with them away from the residential areas.”

The Field Marshal said, “We could have simply ordered our forces to enter into downtown Tripoli with a sweeping operation with heavy weapons and excessive force. The military operations could have ended in a short period of time. However, this would not achieve the noble goal we are working for; besides, there would have been heavy casualties among the innocent residents of the capital. We came to protect Tripoli and its residents; not to attack them. Had we entered in a blitzkrieg, the city’s facilities could have been severely damaged. What we are doing is defending Tripoli, not attacking it.”

“The terrorist groups and militias attacked Tripoli, took control of all walks of life and degraded the dignity of its inhabitants, when the Libyan National Army (LNA) was engaged in its war on terror in a number of other locations in Libya. These are undeniable facts; we remember them now, and history will preserve them. Today is our time with the liberation of Tripoli,” Haftar continued.

Soldiers from the Libyan National Army (LNA)

In reply to the most important question of whether or not the Libyan National Army (LNA) will achieve a decisive victory in the Tripoli battles, the LNA Commander-in-Chief said, “ Yes, no doubt about it. God willing, we will enter the capital sooner rather than later. Was this battle obligatory? The answer is yes, no doubt. We tried to avoid it in various ways, but the criminals who took control of the capital and their servants and agents rejected the logic and path of peace and chose war.”

Ending Militia Rule

Regarding the military achievements on the ground, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar said, “what the Libyan National Army (LNA) has achieved since it launched Operation Dignity is a miracle by all standards despite the harsh and adversary conditions it faced. The LNA has won all the battles it fought. It liberated Benghazi, Derna, the Oil Terminals, the oil fields, and defeated the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and all other terrorist organizations that have settled in Libya and thought they were able to control the country and extend their control to Central and Southern Libya. In terms of the geographical reality, the Libyan National Army (LNA) has actually entered the capital and is fighting the terrorists and the militias inside Tripoli, from Ain Zara to Gasr Ben Ghasheer to Tripoli International Airport Road, to Al-Furnaj and Salah Al-Din.”

Military Situation Map (28 October 2019) @RiskIntelligence

The Field Marshal then identified the armed groups, militias, mercenaries, and terrorists who fight the Libyan National Army in Tripoli. “Those who are fighting the Libyan National Army (LNA) can be briefly categorized into three genres; the first type is the terrorist groups that have an extremist ideology which covers up their activities with militant religiosity; the second type is the classical terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). These have several branches under different insignias. They were able to exploit the state of political chaos and the security vacuum in the country that followed the toppling of the former regime in 2011 and managed to control the joints of the state and the decision-making centres; their goal is to enable the imposition of extremist ideology based on takfirist references and working to turn Libya into an Islamic Emirate according to their orientation. They utilize the wealth of Libya to support other terrorist organizations in the world. There are other groups that have no ideology; financial gains remain their primary goal. These armed groups are made up of large numbers of young people who like the idea of obtaining money by the force of arms. The third category is the mercenaries who are being brought in by the Presidential Council from some African countries; they receive large sums of money to fight the LNA.”

In response to allegations and accusations that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is aiming to take over power in Libya, he refuted them as “mere propaganda, fabrication of charges, dissemination of lies and overturning of facts.” These are, according to the LNA Commander-in-Chief, “a part of the rhetoric of the terrorist organizations that the LNA fights, and a common practice of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) which reports to the militias and armed groups. Libyans are well-aware of such media tactics. They find them quite ridiculous,” Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar said.

“Those who seek to rule are those who cling to power even after the end of their tenure. They shamelessly refuse to hand over their officially expired mandate and return to their previous employment. They lure the underprivileged youths, and they enlist the minors, to fight against the LNA in return for money. They claim legitimacy outside the framework of the constitution, and obstruct any path leading to a peaceful and democratic transition of power, so that they remain in power, even though it is a puppet authority that was never elected by the Libyan people; a void government before in the eyes of justice and before the courts.”

The Libyan National Army (LNA)

“As for us, our aim is to eradicate terrorism, restore the nation and its sovereignty, safeguard the dignity of the Libyan citizen, and pave the way for him to draw, with his free will, a map for his present and his future. Our goal is for the Libyan citizen to live with dignity on his land, and to build his country to suit his aspirations without any external interference, or internal threat. Entering the capital does not mean the emergence of a new ruler, but the beginning of a new era in which Libyans can fold the tragedies of the past, turn a new page, forget their hatred, and roll up their sleeves to build a New Libya,” the LNA Commander-in-Chief continued.

Tripoli Presidential Council Reports to the Militias, Receives Instructions from Qatar and Turkey 

Field Marshal Haftar also answered a question on whether the military operation is directed at a particular political party, as the leaders of Presidential Council reiterate, by saying: “First and foremost, it must be made clear that the so-called Presidential Council (PC) is not a political leadership at all, nor a presidential one from a pragmatic and realistic viewpoint. The PC implements the orders given to it by terrorist and militia groups. Its role is to take orders and receive instructions from Qatar, Turkey and other countries. The so-called Presidential Council can only obey and abide by such orders and instructions. Our military operations in Tripoli are not aimed at any political entity, and were not a momentary response; these military operations are a natural extension of our comprehensive war on terror and our war for a pan-Libya liberation which started with the launching of Operation Dignity in mid-May 2014.”

“The PC implements the orders given to it by terrorist and militia groups. Its role is to take orders and receive instructions from Qatar, Turkey and other countries”

Haftar said that “since day one, Operation Dignity aimed at liberating the entire Libyan territories from terrorism. Its motto has always been: There is No Place for Terrorism in Libya. There is no security, stability and or even a State as long as terrorism is settled on our land. Terrorists and militia gangs joined forces now in the frontlines, fighting the Libyan National Army (LNA). We do not differentiate between them in the battlefield.”

Turkey continues supplying military equipment to militias aligned to the Tripoli-based GNA

Referring to the most important needs that must be made available to the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces to empower them in their fighting against terrorism, he pointed out that the LNA had embarked on its war on terror with very little capabilities, almost negligible, both in terms of the number of officers and soldiers or the level of armament and material resources. Haftar said that terrorist groups, in turn, have a vast arsenal of weapons of all types. “The world has been imposing an arms embargo on us, and yet the Libyan National Army (LNA) was winning all its battles against terrorism, but at a high price. Unfortunately this unfair embargo continues. Were it not for the arms embargo, we would have eliminated terrorism years ago at much lower costs. To complete this struggle in record time and at the lowest cost, the embargo must be lifted immediately. Second, the world must take tough measures to prevent the flow of arms to support the terrorists.”

With regard to the Qatari support to the militias, Field Marshal Haftar asserted that “this support may slightly delay the liberation date, but it will never change the outcome; no matter how massive this support is, it will be destroyed. In many cases, we have benefited from this support because it often turns into spoils for the Libyan National Army. We have already advised those who support terrorism to reduce time and distance and send their weapons directly to us, because in the end, it will fall into our hands.”

Concerning accusations by the Presidential Council of foreign countries support of the Libyan National Army in its battle for the liberation of Tripoli, Field Marshal Haftar pointed out that: “If supporting the fight against terrorism is a charge, we and the countries that stand by us wholeheartedly accept it with gratitude and appreciation. Terrorism in Libya is not just threatening our country. It is a regional threat because Libya is part of a geographical sphere that affects us and, alternatively, is affected by us. This region is the center of the world, and terrorism is a transnational world issue. Countries whose national security, stability and strategic interests are threatened by terrorism have the right to support the Libyan National Army in its efforts to eradicate it. How could the Presidential Council envisage that Egypt, for example, will turn a blind eye to terrorist organizations or cells that are active in Libya? Egypt has a 1,000 kilometers-long common border with Libya. If terrorism moves to Egypt, doesn’t this affect the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or Jordan, for example? The war against terrorism requires joint global efforts as well as security and intelligence cooperation.

Tripoli militias

In response to a question regarding recent accusations by Britain and members of the Presidential Council that the LNA bombed houses of Libyan citizens, Field Marshal Haftar said that “nobody can imagine that Britain, or any other country, is more concerned about the safety of our citizens than their national army. The so-called Presidential Council issues dictated statements. Our forces do not fire a shell or a missile at any target before they ensure the nature of the target, and whether or not it poses a threat to our armed forces such as terrorists and militias’ deployment concentrations and ammunition stores.

The launching process is very accurate and meticulous. If we had not taken into account the civilian population, we would have achieved a decisive victory in the early hours or days of the battle. Indiscriminate shelling and targeting of citizens’ homes is not practiced by professional and regular armies. This is a dirty work that is practiced by militias and undisciplined armed groups, and they resort to this allegation when they are besieged by the army. The militias kill innocent citizens in the streets in broad daylight and in cold blood. There is no moral deterrent preventing them from shelling residential neighborhoods with heavy weapons. These are criminal outlaw gangs; committing crimes is part of their philosophy and their way to make money and exert control over areas of  influence. Our army fought the battle for the liberation of Benghazi for four consecutive years and did not point its weapons against civilian targets. We freed Derna, the stronghold of the Islamic State in Eastern Libya, without injuring a single civilian, as was the liberation of the Oil Terminals as well as Southern Libya.”

As for the most important routes of smuggling weapons and fighters, Haftar revealed that “the land lines that supply the militias with weapons have been completely cut and are under the control of the Libyan National Army, but the air and sea supply lines are still active, thanks to the logistical support from both Turkey and Qatar.

The Turkish-Qatari military logistics continuously arrive in by air and sea; they transport weapons of all calibers, unmanned planes, and fighters to the seaport in Abu Sitta, Tripoli, Misrata Harbour and the Misrata Air College. Most of the time, once these shipments of logistics arrive in their warehouses, they are bombed and destroyed by the Libyan National Army. Cutting these lines requires special and sophisticated capabilities. This is the role of the international community. For our part, we will not hesitate to bomb any enemy military ship or aircraft whenever possible, if it is found to be carrying logistics for the militias, whether weapons, ammunition or fighters.”

“The Turkish-Qatari military logistics continuously arrive in by air and sea; they transport weapons of all calibers, unmanned planes, and fighters to the seaport in Abu Sitta, Tripoli, Misrata Harbour and the Misrata Air College.”

Regarding the flight of hundreds of Islamic State militants  from Syria, the LNA Commander-in-Chief was asked whether the LNA has taken any measures to prevent their infiltration into Libya, he said, “our armed forces, intelligence services, land border authorities and security services in general are on full alert. We have 24-hour patrols to monitor Libyan borders although the capabilities are below the required level. A large number of terrorists have been arrested while attempting to infiltrate the country. In addition, within the framework of security cooperation, we share intelligence with neighboring countries, particularly with Egypt, Chad and the Republic of Niger to prevent any infiltration of terrorists across the common borders.”

The Berlin Conference, UNSMIL and National Identity

As for his position regarding on the Berlin Conference on Libya which seeks to resolve the Libyan crisis, Field Marshal Haftar said that he personally supports any international or national sincere efforts to seriously address the Libyan issue, and if this conference will convene, he wishes it will culminate with success. “By success, we mean the results of the conference must address the long suffering of the Libyan people. We do not yet know what is the agenda of this conference, and I am convinced that addressing the Libyan situation begins with the elimination of terrorism and the dismantling and disarmament of militias.”

All previous conferences failed because of the neglect to address this issue. Their organizers wrongly thought that just bringing the rivals to the negotiating table and issuing an agreement would lead to a solution. However, they soon discovered that such brokered agreements remained just ink on a paper. Once a slight disagreement happens, the beneficiaries of the political and security chaos resort to arms and violence and return to the vicious circle. Even the Skhirat Libyan Political Agreement, which the world celebrated and thought it would address the Libyan situation, failed to address the Libyan crisis. It further complicated the Libyan crisis, although we highly appreciate the role of the Kingdom of Morocco in hosting the meetings. It was a disastrous deal for Libya and the Libyan people, and only benefited the agents and those who illegally carry weapons such as the terrorists and the militias.”

Commenting on the performance of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), under its incumbent SRSG Ghassan Salamé, “UNSMIL is for the sole purpose of support, and it cannot impose any vision on the Libyan people. Even if UNSMIL is mandated with imposing a new reality on the ground, it will collide with the armed groups and the militias because the status quo, which they imposed on the Libyans with the force of arms, is in their best interest. This situation is ideal for all outlaw groups, even if it is tragic for Libyans. That is why we say that what the Libyan National Army is doing helps UNSMIL in its role and does not hinder it because it creates a safe and stable ground for it.”

UNSMIL is supposed to provide support to Libya, but UNSMIL itself is in need of support. No one denies the great effort of Mr. Salamé and his aides, but we judge by the results. It does not take a genius mind to know the causes of failure. There are parties benefiting from the ongoing state of anarchy; they hinder any settlement by the force of arms. Their project is to destroy the national identity of the nation because they believe in an extremist terrorist agenda which they seek to impose by force. This is the exact diagnosis of the Libyan case. The Libyan National Army is addressing all this. Mr. Salamé, for whom we have the utmost respect and appreciation, if he misses this diagnosis, he will only be a passing name in a long series of UN special representatives to Libya. We do not wish him that.”

Terrorists and Terrorism

In response to a question of whether Libya has handed over non-Libyan terrorists to Arab and foreign countries, Field Marshal Haftar said, “we are working with a number of countries at the military and intelligence levels within the framework of joint cooperation to combat terrorism, and we have international agreements and joint working committees. These agreements include bilateral extradition of terrorists, which must be honoured. We have handed over a limited number of cases under these agreements after official interrogation have been duly conducted by the competent authorities in Libya.”

Regarding extremist ideologies, he pointed out that this is a profound issue, and perhaps the best answer can be sought from academics specializing in psychology, sociology and education in general, as well as moderate centrist scholars, not only at the national level, but on an international level as well, because the existing national borders between countries do not prevent terrorism and extremism from spreading on a transnational level, taking into consideration the amazing technological advancement in the field of communications.

“There are many causes behind ideological extremism; there are several economic, social, educational and media factors. Addressing this phenomenon depends on the degree of extremism. There are people who have reached a level of extremism that cannot be confronted with dialogue, thought, persuasion and good advice. Their minds and psyche are petrified and there is no way to avoid their evils, except by keeping them away and isolating them from the society. There are those who are pushed by extremist ideologies to take up arms and treat their fellow citizens in their communities as infidels. Extremism may even reach the point of decapitation. Dialogue does not work with these extremists; they must be confronted by force and eliminated. In my viewpoint, the responsibility to confront extremism lies with the whole society and not only with the governmental bodies or departments. The family may be one of the most important tools of such confrontation, as well as the media, which can contribute significantly in both directions, the direction of countering violent extremism or curbing the spread of such ideologies,” Haftar continued.

“There are many causes behind ideological extremism; there are several economic, social, educational and media factors. Addressing this phenomenon depends on the degree of extremism.”

Turkish Intervention in Syria

Speaking about the Turkish intervention in Syria, Field Marshal Haftar said, “Syria is an Arab sister state and any aggression on it is an attack on all Arabs. These are our principles. Without the state of turmoil that swept over Syria and the state of fragmentation in the Arab world, Turkey would not have dared to invade Northern Syria. Statements of condemnation would not help much in the face of the Turkish aggression. What is needed is a firm international stance to stop this aggression and this Turkish tyranny, which has extended to our territories, here in Libya, through their support of terrorists with all kinds of weapons. However, the resilient armed resistance inside the Syrian territories will defeat and deter the Turkish forces sooner or later. If the Arab countries are unable to repel the Turkish aggression by force, then they at least can boycott the products of Turkey and cancel all agreements with the Turks. This is the least form of opposition until the invading Turkish military units withdraw from Syria and bear responsibility for any consequences resulting from their blatant aggression.”

A Free, Democratic, and Sovereign State

On the other hand, Field Marshal Haftar said, “the Libyan people have gone through many epochs of suffering. However, what they suffer today exceeded all perceptions. Almighty God has bestowed massive natural resources upon Libya. Nevertheless, there is no comparison between Libya’s enormous wealth and the standard of living of its citizens in all walks of life. There are many countries whose natural resources are much lower than ours, but their standard of living is much better than us. This is very unfortunate. The Libyan citizen has lost his most basic human and living rights. What we aspire to is to remove all the obstacles that prevent him from benefiting from his wealth and allow him to live with dignity and enjoy his full human rights. We look forward to a new era that erases all that preceded it, an era free of violence, extremism and hatred, in which Libyans work under the rule of law, and join forces to build a free, democratic, sovereign and civil state, in which the people are not threatened with weapons that oppress or relegate them to an undignified status. Weapons shall only be under the authority of the state whose mission is to serve the citizen and not to dominate him.”

“Weapons shall be monopolized by the state to defend the homeland and its citizens; not to be used as an instrument of oppression and tyranny. We hope that Libyans will come to terms with themselves, forget their hatred, think about what is beneficial for their present and future, and aspire for a better future for their children and grandchildren, and gain world respect, and not to be humiliated and discriminated against at all airports of the world as if they are below human standards,” Field Marshal Haftar said.

“We look forward to changing this bitter reality into a new era in which the Libyan citizens feel their value as humans, and go forward with their mission in life and feel satisfied with their status. We hope that peace will prevail in our country, and that the law, social customs, quiet dialogue and the tolerant teachings of the Islamic religion will be the means to settle any dispute or conflict that may arise between the people of a unified nation. We look forward to a comprehensive development renaissance that will lead to prosperity and improvement in the living standard of the people by investing our wealth in reconstruction, building and developing our homeland, and keeping pace with the world, and focusing on science and knowledge and the energies of the young men and women without discrimination. These are not just dreams, but goals and visions that will be embarked on with the achievement of security and stability first, and this is what we are doing now,” the Field Marshal continued.

“We hope that Libyans will come to terms with themselves, forget their hatred, think about what is beneficial for their present and future, and aspire for a better future for their children and grandchildren, and gain world respect, and not to be humiliated and discriminated against at all airports of the world as if they are below human standards.”

Concluding his interview with Independent Arabia, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar said, “the Libyan people know quite well the messages we are conveying through the accomplishments of the Libyan National Army on the ground that have been attained with sacrifices. We assure all Libyans that there will be a better future, God willing, and that the situation, the country is going through, will soon come to an end with the help of Almighty God, so that we will enter into a new stage in which the people establish their state under the protection of its Libyan National Army and all the security apparatuses.

Our people know their enemy, who destroyed their life and turned it into an utter misery. The Libyan people know who committed violence against them, looted their natural resources and wealth, and compromised their dignity as human beings. Our people distinguish very well between the traitors and agents who sold our homeland on one hand, and the honorable men and women who strive for dignity and national sovereignty and sacrifice their lives for the sake of their country, on the other hand. We assure all Libyans that we will soon get things right, God Willing.

© Al Marsad English (2019)