Libya eastern commander Haftar declares victory in battle for Benghazi

The head of the self-styled Libyan National Army has said his forces 'liberated' the eastern Benghazi city after years of fighting with rival groups

Field Marshal Khalifa Hafta
Field Marshal Khalifa Hafta

Libya's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar said on Wednesday his forces had taken full control of Libya's second city Benghazi from rival armed groups after a three-year campaign.

The battle for Benghazi between Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and an array of rival armed groups has been part of a broader conflict since Libya slipped into turmoil following the 2011 fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya's unrest since the 2011 ousting of Gaddafi saw extremist organisations, including so-called Islamic State, gain a foothold in the country.

"After a continuous struggle against terrorism and its agents that lasted more than three years... we announce to you the liberation of Benghazi from terrorism," Haftar, in full military regalia, said in a speech broadcast on television.

"Today Benghazi enters a new era of peace, security, reconciliation.... and reconstruction," Haftar said, paying homage to "a caravan of martyrs" who fell in the battle for the city.

His announcement comes after bloody battles this week in Benghazi's Sabri district in which dozens of LNA fighters and various local Islamist militants died.

Code-named Operation Dignity, the assault led by Haftar targeted several jihadists groups which had overrun Benghazi after the uprising. These include the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi, an alliance of Islamist militias among them suspected members of the Islamic state group and the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia.

If confirmed, victory would mark a major advance for the one-time commander in the army of late strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

The LNA is not recognised by Libya's UN-backed government of national accord in Tripoli, and Haftar does not recognise the authority of the UN-backed government, instead backing a rival parliament based in the country's far east.

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