Libya’s Tarhuna Looks Like Ghost Town after LNA’s Retreat: Report


Forces affiliates with the Government of National Accord (GNA), the Tripoli-based government recognised by the UN, have entered Tarhuna on June the 5th. This follows the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) earlier retreat from the city to protect civilians from the fighting.

The retreat has been presented by the LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari as a humanitarian gesture intended to spare the city-dwellers from further bloodshed.

The reason behind the LNA’s control of Tarhuna was part of a larger offensive aimed at capturing Tripoli from the GNA. The LNA’s retreat came after mounting pressure from the International community to avoid putting the lives of 160,000 civilians at risk.

In December 2019, Turkey signed two MoUs on defense, and gas drilling in the Mediterranean with the GNA. These MoU’s later led Turkey to send military personnel and an estimated 13,000 Syrian militants from the Syrian National Army (SNA) to Libya to support the GNA.

Reports have revealed that SNA militants accompanied GNA forces when they entered Tarhuna.

An LNA source, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that “the Turkish intervention changed everything with Syrian mercenaries being back by heavy equipment, including Turkish naval vessels and armed drones.” For the source, the adversary “was more than we were prepared for.”

Hussam Ali, a 26-year-old accountant from Tarhuna, said “I haven’t had internet in more than 60 days.” “We’ve had power cuts, water cuts. It’s done from the outside, by the GNA; the city is so empty, it feels like a ghost town now.”

According to the LNA source, more than 37,000 civilians were displaced from Tarhuna and resettled in Sirte and further east.

The GNA cut off food and medical supplies. They cut electricity from the main power grid, and phone and internet services, as well.

Any supply from Benghazi, from ventilators to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, to fuel tankers, was targeted by the GNA. “We couldn’t allow the people of Tarhuna to suffer any longer,” the source said.

Hussam Ali described the situation in the hours after the GNA appeared in Tarhuna. “I just had to hide my family’s valuables,” he said. “Right now, the militias are two kilometers away from me. They’re stealing everything. They stole chickens from an old woman, left, and then came back to steal her earrings.”

Immediately after the GNA seized Tarhuna, it posted photos and videos on social media showing their pride in managing the city while some militants posed with zoo animals they’d slaughtered, including gazelles and a lion.

Ali also said: “we suffered economic difficulties, but life here was much better when the [LNA] was in control; things were becoming stable again, and we were rebuilding,” he said.

On June 7th, two days after taking control of Tarhuna, GNA militants broke into a mall, looted its contents, and set it on fire.

The Syrians are already famous for how much they steal here; they have even stolen traffic lights from the city. It’s funny and sad at the same time.”

A source from the Faylaq al-Majd faction of the SNA who’d been in Tarhuna confirmed the allegations of looting as he said: “Yes, we looted, we have looted in Tripoli, too, they don’t provide the salaries they promised us, so this is how we make a living.”

On June 10th, Husam Ali said that the Rada (special deterrent forces) headed by Abdel Rauf Kara, were present in the city. The Rada presents itself as a police force operating under the GNA’s Ministry of Interior, but actually functions autonomously.

“The Rada targeted homosexuals, alcohol drinkers, and drug users,” he added. “They are a very bad group, but they are more disciplined, and with them here, there might be less destruction and theft.”

The SNA militants who went to Tarhuna confirmed that Rada acts like ISIS and was spreading in the city, inspecting the cars for cigarettes.

A source in the LNA said that Rada forces were better trained, equipped with American-made weapons, and had fought ISIS, yet kept a “terrorist mentality.”

A day later, Ali wrote again to say he’d been wrong to be optimistic as he confirmed that the militias have been burning homes and stealing everything. “These are homes owned by people believed to be loyal to the LNA,” he said.

After entering Tarhuna, GNA forces claimed to uncover mass graves in the city, directly pointing the finger to the LNA and Kaniyat, a militia run by the Kani family.

The Kaniyat were loyal to the GNA before the LNA pushed for Tripoli in April 2019. The milita had taken control of Tarhuna in 2012.

The LNA source denied conducting any mass executions there, saying: “otherwise, why wouldn’t we have done so to the Syrian mercenaries, since the Geneva Convention doesn’t offer them protection as prisoners of war?”

LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mismari denied any involvement of the LNA in these mass graves and said he welcomed the United Nations’ call for an investigation, adding that the LNA had been monitoring the GNA’s violations against civilians.