Libya official: Tripoli units take key town with Turks’ help

CAIRO (AP) — Forces allied with the U.N.-supported government in Libya said Friday they retook another key western town from rival forces, another blow illustrating how Turkey’s support has reversed the tide of the war in the oil-rich country.

Mohamed Gnono, spokesman for the Tripoli-allied forces, said their Turkish-backed units entered the town of Tarhouna, 72 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of Tripoli.

Tarhouna served as a main stronghold for commander Khalifa Hifter’s east-based forces in their campaign to capture Tripoli from the west-based Government of National Accord. Hifter, who leads the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, launched his offensive in April last year.

The announcement of Tarhouna’s capture comes a day after the U.N.-supported but weak Tripoli government said it regained control of all of the capital’s entrance and exit points after taking back the airport, claiming the siege by rival troops trying to capture the city for over a year had effectively ended.

Turkey has boosted its support for the Tripoli militias in recent months, sending drones and other military hardware, along with thousands of Syrian mercenaries, many of them with links to militant groups. Turkish support enabled the Tripoli militias to take back almost all the towns and territories Hifter had taken control of since the beginning of his campaign.

A LAAF official said they left the town “without fighting” as part of a “relocation” of their forces out of the capital to support U.N. efforts to put an end to the conflict. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief the media.

The U.N. mission in Libya spoke with Hifter’s military delegation Wednesday and said it soon planned to speak with the Tripoli-based government.

Hifter’s forces are supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. Along with Turkey, the government in Tripoli is backed by Italy and Qatar.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

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