Anti — 6 June 2016

Jun 6, 2016 | Libyan actors

The Government of National Accord’s (GNA) establishment of the Adjabiya-Sirte operations room to coordinate the anti-ISIS campaign from the east, and de-facto reinstatement of Ibrahim Jadhran as head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) in the central region, in tandem with the PFG attack on ISIS in Libya’s oil crescent, signals that a deal has been made between the GNA and local actors in the oil crescent that circumvents Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). While this dynamic effectively puts the GNA in a firm position to negotiate workable, yet temporary, alliances with rival militias to focus on the fight against ISIS, it threatens to expose the GNA to hijacking by groups that are not under its direct control, and who have no other overlapping interests than the defeat of ISIS in Sirte.

The GNA’s decision to reinstate Jadhran as commander of the PFG in the central region was seen as a direct challenge to the House of Representatives’ ability to dictate who should command the PFG. Furthermore, the visible role of rival militias co-existing under the umbrella of the GNA is a prominent factor for both growing public discontent with the GNA, as well as internal friction within the LNA. Key among these rivals are the legacy Libya Dawn militias, many of which have already joined the GNA’s anti-ISIS campaign, and the PFG commanded by Ibrahim Jadhran which is also pushing west towards Sirte. Ironically, both of these groups fought directly over oil infrastructure in 2014. Meanwhile, political tensions in Misrata between hardline revolutionary/Islamist militias, and more moderate militias under the authority of the GNA, remain subdued for the time being due to the successful and growing momentum of the GNA’s campaign to liberate Sirte.

On 31 May, the GNA established a special anti-ISIS operations room in the oil crescent, with territorial domain from Ajdabiya to Sirte. The GNA’s move to establish an Ajdabiya-Sirte operations room and reinstate Jadhran, coincided with the PFG’s assault (with support from locals) on Bin Jawwad and Nawfaliyah, successfully retaking both towns by 2 June and pushing ISIS back west toward Harawah, another ISIS stronghold. Local reports on 6 June indicated that a Misratan/GNA allied force from Sebha is currently advancing on Harawah and expected to engage ISIS this week, further tightening the noose on Sirte.

Deepening rifts within the Operation Dignity camp were exacerbated when Haftar decided to disband the Anti-Terror Special Force, or “Saiqa,” on 2 June, even though it had comprised core units of the Operation Dignity campaign. GNA Minister of Defense Mahdi Al Barghathi made a statement on 4 June denouncing the decision, while militia commander Faraj Qaim announced his defection to the GNA, accusing some LNA officers of gross crimes and promising to reveal all when “the time is right.” This caused more chaos in the LNA’s ranks, which is now ramping up operations in Benghazi and Derna, in a bid to reorganise and regain momentum in eastern Libya.

Throughout the week, GNA forces advanced steadily toward Sirte, taking control of Wadi Jaref and the steam power plant west of Sirte by 1 June, and Al-Gardabiya dual-use commercial airport/airbase south of Sirte on 4 June. The southern front is reportedly composed of anti-GNA and legacy Libya Dawn militias, while western front forces are mainly from the ‘moderate’ Misrata Military Council coalition, which pledged allegiance to the GNA. On 5 June, the southern front continued to push north, retaking the underground bunkers of ‘Saadi camp’ near Abu Hadi, approaching to within two kilometres of Sirte’s southern gate. The week’s progress was aided by air support, including more than 50 sorties targeting ISIS on battlefront and inside Sirte.  Reportedly, one coalition MiG fighter jet crashed during its mission on 2 June due to technical failure. According to the Bunyan Marsus operations room, the battle has so far cost 100 lives — mostly Misratan fighters — and over 500 injured. Among the dead were key Misratan leaders, including two senior bomb disposal experts and the leader of the 166 Brigade. Despite the human toll, military developments this week signify a significant achievement against ISIS for the GNA and its loosely affiliated local forces. These gains may also provide the operational unity required to achieve an increasingly elusive political agreement.