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Sunday, May 15, 2016

GNA forces from Misrata advancing against Islamic State fighters

Spokesperson for the Joint Military Room, formed by the Presidential Council of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA), General Mohammed Al-Ghasri, said forces of the Misrata Joint Operations Chamber are advancing against the Islamic State.

The forces were reported to be advancing toward Abugrein after they had foiled an attack by the Islamic State on the Al-Saddadah district early on Thursday morning. Al-Ghasri claimed that the forces were now at the entrance to the Aubgrein district. He said: “We have managed to defeat IS militants in Al-Saddadah district and Abugrein preserve in eastern Al-Saddadah bridge.” He also claimed that artillery forces were able to shell an IS car suicide bomber and set it on fire before it reached the check point which was its target. Air Force warplanes have carried out air strikes on locations barricaded by IS miltants in Abugrein and also the nearby towns of Bushanaf and Al-Gaddahiya.
The Misratan forces are now responding to a push by the Islamic State that captured territory and towns to the west towards Misrata and south of IS territory west of Sirte. On Thursday morning the IS forces attacked a checkpoint as Al-Saddah with a car bomb followed by heavy clashes. Four members of the Misrata forces were killed including one of the senior leaders of the Al-Mahjoob brigade.
On Wednesday, two Misrata fighters were killed and 10 others injured in clashes with the Islamic State east of Misrata. The militants launched a surprise attack at night on Misrata troops east of Saddadah bridge. According to one source this is the attack in which Walid Shagmani a senior commander in the Mahjoob brigade was killed. The new attack was seen as an attempt to take the Saddadah checkpoint but failed to do so.
In an interview with Reuters on May 10, Al-Gasri had reported that the GNA military forces were ready to advance on the ISIS stronghold of Sirte. He said: “We are ready and we are preparing our security arrangements to attack Sirte.” He was speaking inside the new military headquarters in Misrata. He urged logistical support from the international community as well as weapons and ammunition. However he said that the forces would advance on Sirte whether the group got international support or not. There are already said to be small numbers of special forces from several countries including the US, UK, Italy, and Jordan operating in Libya. Last Sunday, PM of the GNA Faiez Serraj had called on the international community to help Libya to fight the Islamic State by lifting the UN arms embargo on Libya. The embargo seems to have been broken as the GNA-loyal militia as well as the Libyan National Army militia of General Haftar appear able to receive weapons.
Even though the PC called for all military forces to be united under a central command, General Haftar and the forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) have refused to do so. Haftar began his own march on Sirte over two weeks ago. The PC had asked that any attacks be postponed until the unified command was established. As I wrote at the time, it seems more important who controls military forces than the Islamic State being attacked as soon as possible. The Islamic State was to able to launch a preemptive attack before the Misrata forces who obeyed the PC were ready for an offensive.
Haftar has still not launched an attack on the Islamic State. He has been trying to arrange some sort of agreement with the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG) that controls three main oil ports in the oil crescent. One report claims there was an agreement with the PFG at Ras Lanuf that the group would help the LNA under Haftar. However, other reports contradict this. Haftar no doubt want to ensure that the ports are under his control and not cooperating with the GNA. The former head of the PFG Ibrahim Jodhran is an opponent of Haftar and in favor of the GNA and its Tripoli-based National Oil Company. He is supposed to have been replaced but the situation is not all that clear to me.
What is for certain, is that Haftar so far has not engaged with the Islamic State. IS launched an attack towards Misrata with no apparent worry of what will happen to the east where Haftar is said to be poised for an attack on Sirte. What is also certain is that Haftar has launched an attack on Derna, Operation Volcano, against the group of Islamists who were mostly responsible for driving the Islamic State out of Derna. Jason Pack has an article giving some of the details of the buildup for the attack on Sirte.


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