United States pulls troops from Libya amid a surge in violence

REUTERS  Philippe Wojazer  File

Waldhauser did not discuss where the US forces have been relocated.

India also evacuated a small contingent of peacekeepers.

US military officials say American forces will temporarily leave Libya three days after a renewed flareup of fighting between rival armed groups.

The evacuation came as Field Marshal Haftar's offensive entered its fourth day, with units of his Libyan National Army fighting Tripoli militias in the city's southern suburbs.

The move by the LNA, which is allied to a parallel administration based in the east, escalated a power struggle that has splintered the nation since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The country is governed by rival authorities - the internationally backed government in Tripoli and the government in the east, with which General Hifter is aligned.

Mr al-Sarraj said his government had "extended our hands towards peace", but said General Haftar will now be met with "nothing but strength and firmness".

Al-Sarraj and Haftar held talks in Abu Dhabi in late February, their first confirmed meeting since November 2018, during which they agreed that national elections were necessary, according to the UN.

"We will continue to monitor conditions on the ground and assess the feasibility for renewed USA military presence, as appropriate", said Nate Herring, an AFRICOM spokesman.

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Local media, meanwhile, reported on continued "fierce fighting" around Tripoli International Airport and cited conflicting information on which side controls various positions in the area.

Hafter's media office said in a post online that they took full control of the Tripoli global airport and were working to secure the facility.

The LNA said its forces had advanced into the outskirts of the capital, seat of the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), and taken its former global airport.

"We announce the start of the Volcano of Rage military campaign against the armed forces [of Haftar]", the spokesman said. At least 23 civilians have been killed since Thursday, but numbers do not reflect the Sunday air strikes. In a televised address, the president of the Tripoli-based government said he had been "stabbed in the back" by Hifter after having offered him certain trade-offs to pave the way for a peaceful reconciliation.

Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman for the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Hifter, said 14 troops had been killed since Hifter declared the offensive.

The fighting has displaced hundreds of people, the United Nations migration agency said.

The U.N. mission to Libya (UNSMIL) called on Sunday for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, it said in a statement without giving details.

The LNA is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russian Federation.

Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily.

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