Islamic State Surges in Libya
But Islamist attacks probably won't compell Libyan rivals to work together
On Aug. 23, 2017, nine soldiers from the Libyan National Army’s 131st Brigade — including its commander Ali Al Ghadbane — were killed at a checkpoint near Al Fugha between Sabha and Zillah in southwestern Libya.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The last attack by the terrorist group took place in May 2017, targeting a convoy of the Misrata militia’s 3rd Force. Since the end of August 2017, ISIS has stepped up its activity in the Sirte region.
Indeed on Aug. 27, 2017, after nearly eight months of silence, Amaq — ISIS’s propaganda organ — broadcast a video showing several of its fighters conducting security patrols along the road between Abugrein and Al Jufra in the southwest of Sirte.
At top — an LNA MiG-23 and Mi-35 at Ras Lanuf. Above — LNA forces in late August 2017. Photos via the author
This increase in ISIS operations has prompted the Libyan National Army and the militias of Al Bunyan Al Marsous, or BAM — both allies of the Libyan Government of National Accord — to send reinforcements. The LNA is especially worried about possible attacks on the oil terminal in As Sidra and Ras Lanuf, an LNA spokesman said.
With this significant deployment by two of the major antagonists in the Libya crisis, will we finally witnessed a rapprochement between the LNA and BAM?
Probably not. The LNA still considers almost all other armed groups in Libya — including BAM — to be terrorists, regardless of the groups’ motivations. In that light, it’s possible BAM is motivated to mobilize in part by the LNA’s own mobilization.
A vehicle destroyed in an LNA air strike. Photo via the author
On Aug. 30, 2017, several LNA battalions — the 210th, 276th and 302nd — carried out reconnaissance patrols up to 90 kilometers east of Sirte in parallel with aerial reconnaissance missions. The patrols put the LNA within 10 kilometers of BAM troops. As tensions ratcheted up, an IED struck an LNA checkpoint near Nofalia, killing two LNA troops. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack, too.
On Sept. 1, 2017, the LNA Air Force destroyed several suspected ISIS vehicles in an area southeast of Harawa, but these strikes didn’t prevent ISIS from taking control of El Tesseyn, located between Harawa and Nofalia.
The LNA has permanently stationed at least one MiG-23 fighter jet and one Mi-35 gunship helicopter at Ras Lanuf airport. They conducted another raid on Sept. 3, hitting apparent ISIS vehicles near Ayn Al Taggart.
An LNA MiG-23 in Benina. Photo via the author
That same day, LNA spokesman Ahmed Al Mismari accused BAM and the Islamist Saraya Defend Benghazi group – also known as the Benghazi Defense Brigade — of being complicit with ISIS because these groups apparently follow the same movements as ISIS on the ground.
Since the start of the so-called “Operation Dignity” in May 2014, the LNA has labeled almost all armed groups in Libya as terrorists. Never mind that the Derna Mujahidine Shura Council — an Al Qaeda-affiliated coalition of Islamist militias that formed in December 2014 — actually chased ISIS from Derna in July 2015.
There is therefore no sign of rapprochement between Misrata and the LNA. And thus the seemingly endless Libyan civil war drags on.