GNA-aligned forces launch ground assault on Watiya airbase
On 5 May, forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) began a ground assault on the Watiya airbase, controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA) located south of Zuwara. It is unclear how much progress had been made at the time of writing, with unconfirmed reports indicating that the GNA forces have reached the perimeter of the facility but not made it further. Watiya airbase is the LNA’s main aerial base in western Libya and is a key strategic site – the LNA launches aerial assets from here and it also forms a vital logistical supply line for the LNA’s forces in western Libya. Notably hard to defend due to its flat terrain, it is currently defended by Zintani forces aligned with the LNA. In late March, GNA Western Military forces launched an unsuccessful assault to capture Watiya airbase.
Control of Watiya would provide the anti-LNA coalition with a major tactical win, providing Turkish forces with a much-needed site from which to effectively launch the aerial capabilities it has transported to assist the GNA-aligned forces in recent weeks. Speaking with Al Jazeera founder of Libya-Analysis LLC Jason Pack highlighted the shift in air superiority with Turkish drones now dominating the skies.
If the LNA loses control of Watiya, it will lose a significant strategic facility which it relies upon for supplies, goods and ammunition to its forces in western Libya and from which it launches aerial capabilities. However, it is possible that the LNA will be able to hold onto Watiya even in the face of a major GNA assault, as it is a relatively defensible site, though there are likely to be many casualties. In either scenario, there is a real danger that this assault could sow the seeds of local conflicts and tensions, particularly in Zintan, as members of the same community are likely to end up confronting one another in battle.