The Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Bunyan Marsus operations room, led by Misratan Colonel Bashir Al Gadi, made significant gains against ISIS this week, advancing to within 30 kilometres of Sirte. So far the operation has cost 72 lives — mostly Misratan fighters — and over 150 injured. While the operations room was directly established by the GNA, other nominally anti-GNA militias have joined the fight. This constitutes the formation of a nascent anti-ISIS coalition, and one that is actually fighting together rather than merely ‘talking about fighting.’ In Arabic, Bunyan Marsus means the steadfast wall, a phrase from a Hadith (a saying of the prophet Mohammed) that says the belief to the believer is like the Bunyan Marsus.
Three conflict dynamics were evident this week: 1) The GNA’s assault on ISIS territory between Misrata and Sirte gained significant momentum. The GNA’s Banyan Marsus Operations Room is leading this offensive with support of militias from the old Libya Dawn alliance. 2) The Libyan National Army (LNA) has lost the momentum it had been building up steadily since February 2016. Coupled together, these two dynamics indicate that all scenarios remain open, including a political compromise and unification of military forces into a genuine anti-ISIS coalition under the GNA’s command, or increased fragmentation of both the LNA and the GNA militias. 3) International actors are increasing their involvement to support the GNA’s security efforts.
The city of Hun is the base of the Misratan “Third Force,” which is leading the southern front to Sirte from Jufra. Hun is currently the staging ground for reinforcements of various militias from Tripoli, Janzour, Jufra, Surman, Sabratha, Jufra and Sebha that arrived throughout last week. These forces managed to block ISIS’s southern corridor by advancing northwards on 25 May and retaking the town of Abu Njeem. The Third Force was able to penetrate as far as the strategic Baghla crossing on 26 May, joining the main GNA forces advancing on the northern front, completely encircling Sirte from the west and southwest by 29 May.
On 26 May, Bunyan Marsus fighters consolidated their control of the 50km checkpoint and advanced further to the 30km checkpoint. Clashes took place again at Baghla with ISIS militants but they were quickly defeated.
On 27 May, airpower was heavily mobilized; ten sorties were conducted by the Bunyan Marsus fighter jets, reportedly striking 20 targets on the outskirts of Sirte, as well as inside the city.
On 28 May, Bunyan Marsus forces took full control of 30km checkpoint and Sirte’s steam power station, west of the city. Bomb disposal squads managed to defuse a number of IED’s on the coastal road left by ISIS during the retreat. Local councilors in the liberated areas met with military commanders to discuss a process rejuvenate the towns and provide security.
On May 30, the Petroleoum Facilities Guard (PFG) made significant gains against ISIS from the east. PFG units took control of a number of oil fields last week, including Al Jabal and Waha Al Waha. Additionally, reports confirm that the PFG is now securing Bin Jawwad town center and are at the outskirts of Nawfaliyah. PFG leader Ibrahim Jadhran’s widely rumored links with ISIS and his tribal relations in Bin Jawwad and Nawfaliyah, caused skeptics to questions how real the PFG’s control is in these towns. LNA supporters suggest that a deal was cut between Jadhran and ISIS to take Bin Jawwad and Nawfaliyah, provided he does not advance further west and continues to block the LNA’s advance to Sirte.