Three interlinked conflict dynamics are discernible from last week’s developments on the ground: 1) increased lawlessness and militia rivalry in Tripoli and the western region; 2) increasing momentum of the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Misratan-led assault on ISIS; and 3) rising tension between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and Petroleum Facilities Guard in the Oil Crescent. All of these developments undermine the ability for the anti-ISIS coalition of Libyan militias to function coherently.
Despite the setbacks suffered at the start of the GNA’s Misratan-led operation to liberate Sirte, as well as the high number of causalities already sustained, militias from Misrata and western Libya continue to join the effort. On 17 May, air force jets from the Misratan airbase conducted 12 sorties on ISIS positions, in support of fighters from the Bunyan Marsous Operations room as they advanced east to retake Abu Grein. Landmines left by ISIS on the western outskirts of the town killed six Misratans, while one suicide vehicle was destroyed before it reached its target. The Misratans managed to claim control of Abu Grein, also retaking Al Wishka and the strategic crossing of Baghla. Advancing Misratans forces also clashed with ISIS militants at the 50 Kilometre checkpoint west of Sirte.
On 18 May, ISIS outflanked the Misratans at Al Wishka and Buwirat Al Hasoun. Thirty-two fighters from the Bunyan Marsous Operations Room were killed in Buwirat Al Hasoun, and another 50 were injured. Other Misratan units fought ISIS militants on the southern route to Waddan. During the fight, the Misratans successfully incapacitated a suicide vehicle as it bore down on them, and forced two other vehicles to retreat. The initial wave was followed by ISIS ground force attacks, which were ultimately repelled. The Operations Rooms claimed five ISIS militants were killed in the fighting and issued an urgent call for the international community, “to deliver on its promises to support the legitimate forces belonging to the presidential council of the government of national reconciliation [sic]” by allowing them to acquire arms.
On 21 May, Mohamed Fitouri Sualim, labour minister of the former Ali Zeidan government, was killed during clashes at the Baghla crossing. Misratan forces under the Bunyan Marsous Operations Room had once more attempted to retake the crossing, in order to cut ISIS supply lines from Sirte into Bani Walid and Jufra.