The war between Misrata and ISIS is heating up. Simultaneously, Haftar has not engaged ISIS in any meaningful way this week. Although most of the talk of offensives against Sirte is comprised of hot air, real engagements have started to kick off on the Misratan side and these are likely to occasion countermeasures by ISIS. For example, On 22 May, landmines left by ISIS near Abu Grein killed an LNA officer and wounded two soldiers.
The threat of an ISIS attack against Misrata remains very high following a week of heavy fighting that saw the death of over 70 Misratans, mostly as a result of ISIS suicide bombings and landmines. Meanwhile, ISIS “sleeper cells” and sympathisers are widely suspected of operating within Misrata itself. ISIS launched an attack against the Misratans 100 kilometres west of the Sirte, in a bid to maintain its control over the city. Many of Sirte’s residents have fled, as a result of continued ISIS crackdown, and the imminent battle to liberate the city.
On 18 May, Human Rights Watch published a new report accusing ISIS of crimes against humanity. The report draws from March 2016 interviews 45 Sirte residents who were displaced to Misrata. According to HRW, one third of Sirte’s original population, or 80,000 residents, remain in the city because they cannot afford to leave. The interviewees estimated that there are nearly 1,800 ISIS personnel currently in Sirte, including fighters, police and administrators.
On 19 May, Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed Mismari said that the LNA has acquired intelligence indicating that ISIS militants regrouping in Sabratha once more, to prepare for attacks on western LNA units under the command of Colonel Idris Madi. Mismari also said that the LNA has not yet made contact with ISIS in its advance from the east toward Sirte.
On 22 May, landmines left by ISIS near Abu Grein killed an LNA officer and wounded two soldiers. ISIS has littered the area around Abu Grein with mines in a bid to prevent Misratan forces advancing further eastwards and cutting the strategic ISIS supply lines to the west. Several members of the Misratan-led forces have been killed in recent days as a result. Despite this, Abu Grein is now under control of Misratan forces, with a front line established at Al-Wishka, 25 kilometres to the east.