General Khalifa Haftar
Libyan General Khalifa Haftar has urged the West to send him weapons. Reuters

A Libyan general fighting Islamist militias controlling large swathes of the country has vowed to conquer Tripoli in less than three months and urged the West to supply him with weapons.

General Khalifa Haftar claimed that his troops are fighting "in the world's interest", as a "catastrophe" would unravel just off Europe's southern coast if he were to be defeated.

The 71-year-old is a key player in the civil war that has seen Libya descend into near-anarchy.

The country has been in turmoil ever since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, with the current struggle for power including Haftar's forces, two rival governments and several Islamist militias.

Haftar is baked by the internationally recognised government, which has been operating from the eastern city of Tobruk since Libya Dawn, an Islamist umbrella group, seized Tripoli and installed a rival administration this summer.

Libya Dawn is allied with Ansar al- Sharia, a jihadi movement that recently pledged its alliance to the Islamic State and is designated a terrorist organisation by the UN.

Haftar's forces launched an attack to retake Tripoli earlier this week, bombing the capital's only functioning airport, the Matiga air base.

"Tripoli is only the beginning," he said in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. "We need more forces, more supplies. I gave myself three months, but maybe it will take less."

The general's troops are also fighting to wrestle back control of Benghazi.

"We are fighting terrorism in the world's interest," he said. "If [Islamists] seize power here, the [jihadist] threat will arrive to you in Europe, in your homes.

"Egypt, Algeria, the Emirates and the Saudis have been sending us weapons and ammunition but it is old technology," he added.

"We are not asking for ground troops or warplanes to be sent here: if you give us the right military supplies we can do ourselves."

"The world is watching our soldiers being beheaded, car bombings, tortures: can you accept all this?" he asked.

Earlier this week, The Times reported that the Libyan government was negotiation a multi-million-dollar deal with an eastern European country for the purchase of MiGs jet fighters and attack helicopters.