Supposedly, here is the situation, according to Bel Trew, reporting from Cairo for Foreign Policy magazine:
“A ground invasion of the capital is imminent,” [General Khalifa] Haftar told me from his sprawling military base in the countryside outside Merj, a town that lies roughly an hour-long helicopter ride west of Tobruk [where the “House of Representatives” government is temporarily based].
The reason given is that General Hifter purportedly now has operational control of western-based pro-“House of Representatives” militias in Kikla, which he means to turn on Tripoli (even though he is in the east himself along with the “House of Representatives” government):
Haftar, 71, has seen his fortunes improve dramatically in recent months. He was declared an outlaw by the authorities after unsuccessfully attempting to overthrow the previous Islamist-dominated parliament in February, and was only recently reinstated by the House of Representatives, which lacked a military force of its own to wrest control back from the militias. Haftar quickly changed that: He absorbed pro-government Western militias into his army, and is currently encircling the capital and fighting Libya Dawn militiamen in Kikla.
I’m not sure why, but Trew is giving his interview statements way more credence and credibility than I would. Hifter’s been pretty disastrously bad at everything he’s tried to do so far this year. Apart from acknowledging that he has a lot of enemies within his own “side” (recall that as recently as October he’d been sidelined and had announced his own retirement) and may not have as much support as some of his titles imply, she seems to be taking a lot of his claims of progress at face value, despite the claims contradicting essentially everything else I’ve read (and his history of making stuff up).
For example, he claims in the interview to have retaken 95% of Benghazi from pro-Islamist militias backing the rival GNC government. She does refer to this as a “claim” — but also suggests he has “gained serious ground” and has “momentum,” based on this claim. Just over a month ago, I noted, based on neutral observers’ accounting and AFP reporting that things were going very, very poorly in Benghazi for Hifter’s forces:
On the military side, the three biggest cities in Libya as a whole — Tripoli, Benghazi, and Misrata respectively — are under full or partial control of the pro-GNC faction and their various aligned Islamist-leaning militias. And the pro-HOR/Hifter forces in Benghazi are reportedly being utterly wrecked by the pro-GNC forces, even while armed with fighter jets and supported by the Egyptian military: In the past month, eighty percent of all deaths (military, Islamist, and civilians) in Benghazi have been from the military or Hifterite militias, according to Agence France Presse, based on Red Crescent and hospital accounts.
Seems hard to reconcile that with suddenly having 95% control and being back on the offensive all over the country. One wonders how much authority he actually has over the Kikla militas at all, given how far away he is from it all, and his apparent lack of leadership ability.
Sadly, a lot of backers of the HOR government seem to be putting a lot of faith in this Tripoli invasion strategy:
“The easiest solution is a military takeover [of Tripoli], it’s the only way to move forward from this ridiculous stalemate,” said one senior lawmaker, dressed in a crisp suit. “We are trying to build a new central bank and premises for different ministries, but this is temporary until we take back Tripoli.”
Maybe I just have a different definition of easy than this guy?
And again, this allegedly imminent operation is being led by a man who has already failed twice this year alone to take over Tripoli, even when it wasn’t firmly occupied by pro-GNC militia forces, as it is now. It seems very hard to envision Hifter — or anyone — launching a successful invasion of Tripoli right now without significant foreign support. The likeliest backer, Egypt’s military, had been pretty clear that they have no interest in working with him. Hifter’s former patron and home-away-from-home, the United States, has also been clear about their opposition to his various renegade operations and coup attempts.
Meanwhile, the strategically critical pro-GNC assault on Libya’s eastern and central oil export terminals, continues to threaten the divided country’s only remaining delicate balance that has been keeping things vaguely functioning. Several days ago, a stray rocket sparked a major fire at one of the facilities. Pro-HOR forces struck back with airstrikes near the terminals, which seems pretty dangerous, too. Libyan oil is so important to global markets that this battle has resulted in the first noticeable increase in global oil prices after a lengthy downward trend across the past several months despite rising chaos and disruptions in other oil supplier countries.