The Battle for Tripoli

Tripoli, Libya

The Battle for Tripoli

These images were taken in December 2019, during clashes between the Libyan National Army of Gen Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to the Government of National Accord in Tripoli

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In April 2019, General Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched a major offensive against the city of Tripoli. Fighters grouped in small brigades along the front-line had been trying for months to resist the attacks of the strongman from the east. They had some tanks and rocket launchers but were mainly armed with Kalashnikovs in a state of disrepair. Confronted with air strikes by Mirage fighter jets and deadly drone attacks, they often had no choice but to retreat.

The Misurata brigades that took part in the revolution against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and then went on to fight ISIS in Sirte were among the most powerful militias on the front-line. Their grizzled fighters were barely over 30 years-old and were now joined in battle by their younger brothers, siblings or neighbors, often students. One last battle, they hoped, but this time for Tripoli.

For now, the conflict in Libya is at a stalemate. Haftar’s advance on Tripoli was defeated and a ceasefire deal has been reached, but foreign powers – Russia, France, the UAE and Turkey — continue to meddle in the war.

Even as a central battlespace, Tripoli remained a refuge to which families fleeing violence were forced to flock. It was a capital without a country, its daily life governed by the rhythms of assaults by enemy forces, where combatants and displaced persons seem condemned to this ritornello of violence. Yet the Libyan people aspire to write another history: their own.

The inside of a room in one of the buildings. The walls are made of rough concrete and the floor is dirt. A curtain has been stretched at the entrance behind which the silhouette of a man can be seen. Alazizia district of Tripoli, Libya, November 28, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the frontline of al-Swani during the clashes, view in the living room of a totally devastated villa whose wall had been blown out by a shell. Libya, outskirts of Tripoli, December 6, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the threshold of her room that opens directly onto the void, an old lady tries to light the fire of her brazier. In Tripoli, property prices had more than doubled since the offensive began. On Aseka Road in Tarik al-Sekka district, displaced war victims took refuge in high-rise buildings whose construction had been halted. These refugees lived in very precarious conditions, without water or electricity. Alazizia district of Tripoli, Libya, November 28, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

No man’s land on the frontline, in Alazizia district. Despite the apparent calm, the area was not secured and drone attacks from the LNA were frequent. Libya, Tripoli, December 2, 2019/Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the front-line of al-Swani during the clashes, a fighter of Brigade 610 (GNA) fires with his machine gun. Libya, outskirts of Tripoli, December 6, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the front-line of al- Swani during the battle, two fighters of the 610 Brigade (GNA) are passing a revolver from hand to hand. Libya, outskirts of Tripoli, December 6, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

The interior of a room covered with plastic sheeting. The children must do their homework before dusk because the buildings have no electricity. This family had a villa in Salah al-Din district, on the front-line, and had to flee during the offensive. They had no family in the city and could not afford to rent. Alazizia district of Tripoli, Libya, November 28, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

A fighter stands in the stairwell of one of the many abandoned and ransacked villas in this area on the front-line of al-Ramla near Tripoli International Airport, during clashes against the LNA. Libya, outskirts of Tripoli, December 3, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the front-line of al-Swani, some sheep pass by an abandoned house. Libya, outskirts of Tripoli, December 6, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

At the bottom of one of the buildings of Tarik al-Sekka, an old man and his wife are sitting on the concrete. The family had a house in al-Swani district, on the front-line. During the offensives carried out by Haftar’s troops, they had to flee and lost everything. Alazizia district of Tripoli, Libya, November 28, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the front-line at the international airport, Colonel Suliman Targui and his men assess the situation on the ground. The colonel is one of the founders of Group 166, which consisted of 570 fighters. In 2016, the group fought in Sirte against ISIS. Heeding the call of the GNA, the brigade joined the battle for Tripoli in April 2019. Outskirts of Tripoli, December 4, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

On the front-line of al-Ramla near Tripoli’s international airport, during clashes against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Gen Haftar, a Government of National Accord (GNA) fighter fires rockets. Libya, outskirts of Tripoli, December 3, 2019/ Karine Pierre / Hans Lucas Agency

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