Forces backing elected Libyan government take town
CAIRO (AP) — Forces allied to Libya’s elected government seized a western mountain town after heavy airstrikes drove back rival militias on Monday, as warplanes also bombed Tripoli’s only functioning airport, killing two people, officials said.
The bombings of Matiga air base — under control of Islamist-allied militias — appear to be part of efforts by the elected government to retake the capital.
The combat is part of an ongoing power struggle between the elected government that was forced to leave the capital and convene in Libya’s far east, and a rival alliance of Islamists and militias from the city of Misrata who have controlled Tripoli since August.
Authorities directed flights from Matiga to another airport in the western city of Misrata, according to an airport official who said that three missiles hit the military airstrip’s runway. Two people were also injured, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Matiga is controlled by members of a now-disbanded extremist organization known as Libya Islamic Fighting Group, some of whom help administer Tripoli.
The base was used for civilian purposes since last summer when Tripoli International Airport was destroyed during intense fighting between rival militias before the Islamist-allied group took Tripoli.
Tripoli fighting has forced whole neighborhoods to evacuate and diplomats to flee the country.
The airstrikes come shortly after combat in Kikla, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Tripoli, came to an end after over 40 days of fighting between allies of the two rival camps.
The battles left over 300 dead and nearly 1,000 wounded. Most residents were locally displaced and the Tripoli government called the town a “disaster zone.”
In a statement, the Tripoli-based forces admitted defeat but said other fronts remain open. Local official Nour Eddin bel Qassim says fighters from Kikla as well as surrounding cities and Tripoli militias were forced to retreat.
The battles in western Libya mirror similar fighting in the second largest city of Benghazi, where government forces are battling Islamist militias for control of the city.