Anti – 23 February 2015

Feb 23, 2015 | Libyan actors

During the course of the past week, Operation Dignity (OD) forces and aligned military groups appear to have consolidated their control over the strategic maritime port area in central Benghazi. Furthermore, as of Sunday 22 February, OD warned citizen from the districts of Gwarsha and Qunfada that their areas would be subjected to airstrikes, shelling and heavy fighting in a bid to eradicate pockets of resistance from forces entrenched there and loyal to the broad umbrella group of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). Qunfada, located west of Benghazi, is considered especially important due to the presence there of the al-Marisa port, which is supposedly being used by BRSC fighters to receive weapons, ammunition and fighters from national supporting partners. Nonetheless, although some reports optimistically indicate that even the Laithi district is slowly coming under full control of OD and the Libyan National Army (LNA) aligned with it, troops loyal to Khalifa Haftar and his operation appear to be overstretched and unable to maintain a thorough and full control of the whole city without relying on amateur vigilantes groups and militias established by local inhabitants.

Over the past week, the Egyptian air force repeatedly targeted Derna in retaliation for the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians at the hands of radical Jihadists in Sirte affiliated with the Islamic State (IS). Attacks by Egyptian forces were carried out in coordination with members of OD and of the Tubruq-based authorities. OD remains adamant that Derna will soon be subjected to an all-out military assault to free the city from radical Islamist groups along the blueprint of Benghazi. As resentment over militants based in Derna grows among eastern Libya communities as well as in Egypt, it is not impossible that this action will be launched in the short period, although the persistence of the embargo on the sale and provision of weapons to any Libyan party could complicate matters.

On Sunday 22 February, it was also reported that under a mandate received from the rump General National Congress, the 166th Battalion of the Libyan National Army was gathering at the entrance of the city of Sirte and was expecting to launch an assault to regain its full control within hours. Recent developments in Sirte have put Libya Dawn militias and representatives in an increasingly awkward position with regards to their alliance with Jihadist elements across the country. Despite these events, however, some members of Libya Dawn continue to deny the existence of IS cells inside Libya and to label those present in Sirte as mere ‘unauthorised armed groups’. Should GNC-mandated forces launch an assault over Sirte, this could represent a watershed moment and finally push all elements within Libya Dawn to take a final decision as to their stance towards Jihadist groups. Ultimately, this could facilitate the rapprochement process between those in the Libya Dawn camp who reject radical Jihadists and other moderates in the Tubruq-based camp.