US pulls forces through Libya as fighting approaches Tripoli

The United States has temporarily withdrawn some of its forces through Libya due to “security conditions on the ground,” a top military official said Sunday as a Libyan commander’s forces advanced toward the capital of Tripoli along with clashed with rival militias.

A smaller contingent of American troops has been in Libya in recent years, helping local forces combat Islamic State along with al-Qaida militants, as well as protecting diplomatic facilities.

“The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex along with unpredictable,” said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command. “Even with an adjustment of the force, we will continue to remain agile in support of existing U.S. strategy.”

He did not provide details on the number of U.S. troops which have been withdrawn or how many remain within the country.

Footage circulating online showed two apparent U.S. Navy transport craft maneuvering off a beach in Janzour, east of Tripoli, sending up plumes of spray as American forces were ferried through the shore.

India also evacuated a smaller contingent of peacekeepers. The Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said the country’s 15 Central Reserve Police Force peacekeepers were evacuated Saturday through Tripoli because the “situation in Libya has suddenly worsened” along with fighting has moved into the capital city.

The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, launched a surprise offensive against the capital last week, a move which could potentially drag the country back into civil war. Libya has been gripped by unrest since the 2011 uprising which overthrew along with killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In recent years, the country has been governed by rival authorities within the east along with in Tripoli, within the west, each backed by various armed groups.

Fayez Sarraj, head of government in Tripoli, accused Hifter of “betraying” him.

“We have extended our hands towards peace, however after the aggression which has taken place on the part of forces belonging to Hifter along with his declaration of war against our cities along with our capital … he will find nothing however strength along with firmness,” al-Sarraj said Saturday in televised comments.

Sarraj along with Hifter held talks in Abu Dhabi in late February, their first confirmed meeting since November 2018, when they agreed which national elections were necessary, according to the U.N.

Hifter can be seeking to capture the capital along with seize military control of the whole country before U.N.-sponsored talks due to start next week which were designed to set a time frame for possible elections within the oil-rich country.

The U.N. envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, said the U.N. can be determined to hold the planned conference.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Libyan factions to return to negotiations, saying which “there can be no military solution to the Libya conflict.”

“We have made clear which we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces along with urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said in a statement.