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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Commander of Libyan Special Forces loyal to Haftar killed in Benghazi by sniper

For months now the head of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives government in Tobruk has supported the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Khalifa Haftar, in his Operation Dignity offensive intended to retake Benghazi and Tripoli.
He still has not completely recaptured Benghazi, which had been for some time under the control of an umbrella group of radical Islamists called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. The group includes Ansar al-Sharia, who are said to be linked to Al Qaeda, and of late there are reports that Daesh or the Islamic State are involved as well. However, Ansar al-Sharia is usually in conflict with the Islamic State as it is in competition with it and many of its fighters have joined the more radical group. In Derna, which for long was the main stronghold of IS in Libya, an umbrella group of jihadists drove out IS from the city, the first serious setback for the group in Libya. IS still holds the city of Sirte and the surrounding area.
A sniper killed Salem al-Naili and another member of LIbya's special forces unit that are loyal to Khalifa Haftar. Four other members were wounded in the same incident. IS claimed responsibility for the attack but there has been no independent confirmation of this. Al-Naili, called "the demon," was commander of the Saiqa 21st brigade, an elite special forces group. The killing happened as Haftar launched an offensive against Islamists who still control parts of the city. The fighting in Benghazi has been going on for more than a year now.
Critics claim artilley and air strikes have reduced much of Benghazi to rubble without gaining all that much ground. Haftar has announced several times that the army has almost cleared out the city of Islamists and he repeated this refrain after this attack. Even the UN is critical of Haftar's offensive especially when conflicting forces have been asked to refrain from attacks while peace talks are ongoing:The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Bernardino Leon, strongly condemns the escalating fighting in Benghazi and the heavy toll it is having on civilians, and reiterates the call for an immediate end to the hostilities. He particularly deplores the shelling of residential areas in the city, and the consequent loss of civilian lives as well as property. The Special Representative reiterates his belief that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Libya and that continuing hostilities will only bring more death and destruction, in addition to the untold suffering of the population.Haftar routinely thumbs his nose at the UN. Instead of being punished or threatened with sanctions, the UN isolates the rival government in Tripoli and gives support for the Tobruk government that supports his Operation Dignity. Notice that the release does not identify any party involved in the clashes.
When asked when the Benghazi battle would be over Haftar said: "I cannot give a date but it will be very soon." However, UN Special Envoy, Leon, reporting to the UN Security Council claimed: "In Benghazi, clashes ... continue with neither side making significant gains.". Haftar paid no attention to the UN warning. In revenge for the killing of his key commander he meted out collective punishment on everyone in the area controlled by militants: This evening salvoes from army howitzers and Grad missile batteries pounded areas occupied by Ansar and Daesh fighters in Benghazi’s Leithi district. This followed five raids by Mig-23s which missiled and bombed militant positions in Nubs Square and Hejaz Street.
I would caution those reading reports from the Libya Herald and the Libya Observer, though they remain key resources for information about the perspectives of the two rival governments. The Herald generally supports the Tobruk government. It is better written and somewhat more objective compared to the Libya Observer that supports the Tripoli government, but Herald reports too are often biased. In this case, the reports as to who the Islamists are who are being attacked by Haftar may be tailored to support the narrative that Haftar is attacking terrorists, whereas there could be a variety of Islamists involved. As with Syrian rebels against Assad, Islamists of all stripes tend to unite against Haftar and they care little that some of those they ally with are regarded as terrorists in the west. The Islamic State however also has become an enemy of all other Islamists radical or otherwise. It is surprising they would cooperate with other Islamists in Benghazi. However, in Libya anything is possible.

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