TRIPOLI, Libya

Libyan government forces launched a military operation early Tuesday to liberate Al-Watiya airbase, southwest of the capital Tripoli and controlled by militias loyal to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, a military source told Anadolu Agency.

A government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said heavy artillery by the Libyan army paved the way for forces to launch a ground offensive at the base.

“Clashes are raging on near the base,” the source said.

On Friday, the Libyan government conducted five air operations targeting militants loyal to Haftar at the base.

Al-Watiya is regarded as a key airbase in the country and is second only to Mitiga Airport. It was captured in August 2014 by Haftar, the leader of illegal armed forces in eastern Libya, who used it as his headquarters for western operations.

The Libyan government has been under attack by Haftar’s forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence. It launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter attacks on the capital.

As part of Operation Peace Storm, air operations are being periodically carried out against the base.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech on Monday that “good new news from Libya will be returned to us soon, God willing,” stressing that “Libya’s security, safety and prosperity of its people is the key to stability in the entire North African and Mediterranean region.”

Erdogan said Turkey is determined to continue supporting Libya’s legitimate government to transform the area into a region of peace.

He also said thanks to Turkey’s support for the legitimate government Haftar is losing ground.

The Libyan army has recently made gains against Haftar’s militias, which are supported by France, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal.

*Writing by Zehra Nur Duz

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