Led by General Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan National Army allied with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives took control of the city of Sabha in southern Libya.
Despite many efforts to reach a political solution, the situation in Libya remains tense. In addition to clashes between rival militias in the capital, Tripoli, the country’s south has witnessed continued operations by the General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). These operations have been concentrated around the city of Sabha and its surroundings.
One of the largest population centres in southern Libya, Sabha has been the scene of regular clashes between rival tribes and factions amidst a steady deterioration of law and order. The LNA, an ally of the country’s House of Representatives Government in Tobruk, withdrew from the city in 2018 following heavy fighting between the Awlad Suleiman and Tabu tribes. Subsequently, the city came under the control of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). On the ground, however, GNA control remained weak, with the local tribes and militias holding de-facto authority.
The vacuum has not only allowed groups linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda to retreat to the region after losing their strongholds along the coast, but it has also led the town to emerge as a hub for modern-day slavery.
The LNA operations, launched in mid-November, have been framed as an effort to combat al-Qaeda and ISIS cells in and around Sabha. Indeed, the LNA claimed that a number of al-Qaeda operatives were killed within the city itself. However, the LNA also moved towards the Shahara Oil Fields that have been under GNA authority, as well as wrestling the control of the city from the GNA itself.
By all accounts, the LNA’s capture of the city was quick, with reports of Tabu, Hasona, Estiman and Kdafah tribes aligning with Haftar’s forces. The LNA took control of the Sabha Airport, Citadel and numerous other points in the city, with LNA officials imploring that the organisation is the national army of all Libyans, not just the HoR, highlighting that the main goal is to combat ISIS. However, the conciliatory note has been marred by reports of pro-LNA tribes exacting revenge attacks on their opponents and looting their properties.
Despite this, the HoR appears to be intent on ensuring that its governance can be legitimised in the city. An HoR delegation recently arrived in the city. The GNA, meanwhile, has not commented on the matter.
Although overshadowed by the clashes in Tripoli, the events in Sabha nevertheless highlight the difficulties in reaching a political solution in Libya, with the LNA leader Khalifa Haftar at the centre of the developments.