Escalating tensions between rival Libyan armed forces threaten to plunge the North African country deeper into turmoil only weeks after the fall of the ISIL group’s bastion Sirte.
The power struggle pits an administration based in eastern Libya, backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, against a UN-brokered unity government in Tripoli supported by militias from the western city of Misrata.
“The situation is most likely going to escalate further given that the voices of war are now the loudest” after an air strike by Haftar’s forces against the Misrata militias, analyst Mohamed Eljarh of the Atlantic Council said.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is the centrepiece of Western hopes to stem an upsurge of jihadism in Libya, but it has failed to assert its authority across the country.
The rival authority in the east has refused to cede power and has its own armed forces, which call themselves the Libyan National Army (LNA) and are led by Haftar.
Pro-GNA fighters mainly from the Western town of Misrata drove IS from Sirte in December, capping a deadly months-long campaign for Kadhafi’s hometown.
The Misrata militias include hardliners determined to fight Haftar’s army.
The LNA has battled jihadists in second city Benghazi for more than two years and blames Misrata militias of backing diehard extremists.
On December 7, two days after Sirte’s liberation, tensions flared when hardline Misrata militias joined an attack against Haftar’s forces launched by an alliance of Islamist and tribal fighters.