US forces evacuate Libya for safety reasons
Forces allied to Tripoli govt announce counter offensive
Eastern Libyan forces carried out an air strike on the southern part of Tripoli yesterday, escalating an operation to take the capital despite calls for a truce from the United Nations.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) force of Khalifa Haftar, which backs a parallel administration in the east, last week launched an advance on Tripoli in the west, the home to the internationally recognised government.
The offensive intensifies a power struggle that has fractured the oil and gas producer since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
The LNA claims to have reached the southern outskirts and taken its former international airport though the Tripoli military officials deny this.
A war plane carried out an air strike in the same area, a resident and eastern military source said. No more details were immediately available.
The UN mission to Libya (UNSMIL) yesterday called for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, it said in a statement without giving details. At least 21 people have been killed since the offensive.
In another sign of the situation worsening on the ground, a contingent of US forces supporting the US Africa Command evacuated Libya for security reasons, a US statement said. It gave no details.
Forces allied to the Tripoli government meanwhile announced its own operation called "Volcano of Anger" to defend the capital, a spokesman said, without giving details.
Powerful armed groups from the western city of Misrata and fighters from Zentan and Zawiya -- all battle-hardened militiamen who took part in the 2011 uprising -- have joined the battle.
The offensive has taken the UN by surprise, undermining plan to find agreement on a road map for elections to resolve the protracted instability in Libya, transit point for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara with the objective of reaching Europe across the Mediterranean Sea to the north.
Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to UN reports.