Turkish-backed fighters allied to Libya’s United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) moved closer to Sirte on Saturday as a battle for the key strategic city looms, Reuters reported.
Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte.
The Tripoli-based GNA says in intends to recapture Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals, from forces allied to the eastern-based rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
The GNA recently recaptured most of the territory held by the LNA in northwest Libya, ending Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take the capital. The new frontline has been drawn between Misrata and Sirte.
Supported by Turkey, the GNA has said it intends to capture an LNA airbase at al-Jufra as well as Sirte from the LNA, which is backed by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt has threatened to send troops into Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte.
Control of the city of some 85,000 people will be decisive for the oil industry, as it is the gateway to the central and eastern oil crescent where much of Libya’s 1 million-plus barrels a day of output were once shipped to world markets.
It currently produces just 90,000 barrels a day, according to a report by Bloomberg in June.
The LNA has also sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte. The city has changed hands several times and been badly scarred by earlier phases of conflict since the 2011 ousting of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi.