“Your armed forces declare to you the liberation of Benghazi from terrorism, a full liberation and a victory of dignity,” Haftar said in a short televised speech on Wednesday. “Benghazi has entered into a new era of safety and peace.”
The announcement came shortly after Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) was able to break the final pockets of resistance in Libya’s second city and overtake the seafront district of Sabri using heavy artillery fire.
Littered with burnt cars and debris from destroyed buildings, Sabri has been reduced into a ghost town following the deadly clashes of the past few weeks.
If true, the victory concludes the so-called “Operation Dignity” that Haftar launched in May 2014. LNA officials say over 5,000 of their men were killed in the long-running fight.
The militant groups are likely to mount heavy comebacks against the LNA to regain the city, as it has been the case throughout the Benghazi battle.
Libya has faced a power vacuum since a US-led military intervention by NATO in 2011, which led to the downfall of its longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Rival governments were set up in Tripoli and eastern Libya back in 2014.
The country has been grappling with chaos and the emergence of numerous militant groups, including Daesh Takfiri terrorists who are concentrated in Iraq and Syria.
Haftar is known for partaking in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. He switched sides during an uprising against the former dictator in 2011.
The general refuses to recognize Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj from Tripoli.
On May 2, however, the two leaders held a rare meeting in the United Arab Emirates and reached an agreement to unify their efforts to curb terrorists, including Daesh.
Haftar’s forces have also been involved in the ongoing clashes with Daesh and other militant groups over controlling Libya’s key oil facilities.