The LNA’s ‘Martyrs’ Blood’ Operation’ launched on 20 February managed to retake strategic locations in Hawari and the University district in South Benghazi last week. LNA aircraft also continued to blockade the city and the coast, targeting any trawlers that have attempted to resupply or medevac fighters. Fighting has still taken place around Benghazi’s cement factory, but most of the surrounding areas are firmly under the control of the LNA. The capture of the cement factory marks the liberation of Hawari, one of the last ISIS outposts in southern Benghazi and effectively cornered ISIS and its acolytes in the Guwarsha and Ganfuda areas, leaving the extremist militias with only a small stretch of coastline. LNA air forces stationed at Tobruk (Gamal Abdel Nasser) Airbase received eight ‘new’ Mi-8 helicopters, which are being deployed to assist the LNA operations in the southwest portion of the city.
As the LNA consolidates its gains, signs of life are re-emerging in Benghazi. A Benghazi Security Operations Room has been put in place, with police patrols and checkpoints established in areas previously controlled by militants. The LNA’s Central Command Operations Room, controlled by Khalifa Haftar, reportedly directly coordinates the new Operations Room. This could complicate military-civilian relations in the coming weeks instability persists in Benghazi.
(Map courtesy of Mutaz Gedalla, Benghazi public source)
An anonymous source in Mirasta said an aircraft based in Misrata struck an ISIS trawler inside the Sirte port on 1 March. Another airstrike hit the Hay Dollar residential area in Sirte on 6 March, killing several civilians. Local sources report that unidentified Western aircraft—possibly American, British, or French—are still patrolling the skies of Sirte. Meanwhile, Misratan forces are believed to be amassing forces at the eastern gates of the city in anticipation of an assault on Sirte.
In Sabratha, the Field Operations Room under the direction of the Sabratha Municipal Council managed to hunt down and kill 20 ISIS fighters last week. While evacuating the city, some ISIS fighters fled to the Libya-Tunisia border and fought with the Tunisian military. Other ISIS fighters have reported fled south to the Jfara region. Due to the local support and intelligence received by the Sabratha Field Operations Room, two (out of four) Italian hostages were liberated from ISIS. The hostages were kidnapped while en route to the Mellitah complex from the Ras Ejdir border crossing in 2015. Filippo Calcagno and Gino Policardo both returned safely to Italy on 6 March 2016. Unfortunately, the other two hostages were found dead near Al Talil on the Sabrathan coast on 3 March, after fighting took place between retreating ISIS forces and local militas.