Thursday, June 25, 2015

Islamic State being driven out from last area of their former stronghold Derna

The Libyan news agency Lana reports dozens of Islamic State(IS) fighters were killed in battle with Shura Council of Derna Jihadists as they seek to drive IS from an eastern area of the city.
Earlier reports claimed the Islamic State had been driven out of the city and fled to nearby mountainous areas. However, an eastern area of Derna known as Fataeh was still apparently under control of the Islamic State and is only now being cleared of IS militants. Lana, a news agency associated with the Tripoli government, claims this is the last area of Derna under IS control. The battle for Derna has been going on for more than a week now.
Derna was the first city in Libya to come under IS control and the group has been a significant presence in the city since late last year. However, there were other militias as well in the city. Some Islamic State fighters are local, having been converted to IS from other radical groups such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia. This is the group thought responsible for the attack on the U.S. consul in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and several others. Other IS militants in the area are foreigners who are veterans of the Iraq, Syria, and even Yemen conflicts. The Shura council militants have a much longer connection to Derna going back to the days of the Gadaffi regime. The local militants were very active in the battle against Gadaffi forces.
While the Islamic State is being driven out of Derna, it has made advances in the city of Sirte, a second city over which it has gained control. It is ironic that IS is strong in Sirte since the city is known for containing many Gadaffi loyalists. It was one of the last major cities to fall to the rebels and Gadaffi was killed near the city. Gadaffi was known as an opponent of radical Islamists and was notorious for jailing and oppressing them. However, many in Sirte feel that the revolution and the Tripoli government has done nothing for them and hate that government. Officials of the Tripoli government claim that the Gadaffi loyalists have made an opportunistic strategic alliance with IS in order to gain more power in the city. The ousting of IS from Derna will not bring the city under control of the internationally-recognized Tobruk government. Although the city is in an area controlled by Tobruk the Shura Council of Derna is allied with the Tripoli government and will not allow the Tobruk government into the city.
Libya has been split into two rival governments for some time. The UN has been having negotiations to form a unity government since last fall. Bernardino Leon the UN special envoy to Libya had hoped that a deal would be made by the start of Ramadan. There is no news about what is happening and no deal is in sight. Even if there were the head of the Tobruk armed forces, Khalifa Haftar says that he will never negotiate with the Libya Dawn militia the main group associated with the Tripoli government. He hopes for a military solution through his Operation Dignity begun in May 2014.


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