Thursday, May 12, 2016

Islamic State in Libya advances to west and south

The Islamic State appears to be launching an offensive of its own to the west and the south before an attack is launched against it.

Attacks on Thursday between their stronghold Sirte and the city of Misrata are said to have killed five people. The group also claimed to have taken control of several villages in the area as well after it had attacked several checkpoints. One tweet says:
 #IS claims to have seized 6 villages on coast & inland btwn #Sirte & #Misrata: Baghla, Bunjaim, Zamzam, Washka, Buirat al-Hassaun & Bugrain
Reports that local security forces had retreated were not yet confirmed. The Islamic State controls a strip of coast about 155 miles long stretching both east and west from Sirte.
Aziz Issa, spokesperson for the Misrata central hospital said three members of local security forces had been killed in an attack on a checkpoint at Abu Grain which is about 140 km or 85 miles west of Sirte. He also said that about 40 people had been wounded in the attack with the clashes that followed. The Islamic State also carried out attacks to the south with a bomb attack in Baghia. An official in the nearby town of Bani Walid said two persons were killed.
These attacks are happening as militia groups from Misrata had been gathering for an attack on Sirte. The Presidential Council of the UN-brokered Government of Natioanal Accord (GNA) asked all those groups planning to attack the Islamic State to wait until the GNA had established a unified command. There is no indication that Khalifa Haftar commander in chief of the Libyan National Army associated with the Tobruk-based HoR government will agree to join any such command. The HoR does not recognize the GNA as yet. The Misrata brigades could counter-attack soon. There have been no announcements yet though of a unified command.
The Islamic State is struggling to gain more support and win territory. It has been driven out of its original stronghold Derna and also out of most of Benghazi. It has also been forced out of the western city of Sabratha.
More than a week ago, Haftar announced he was advancing to liberate Sirte. Two streams of LNA forces with many recently received vehicles moved towards Sirte, one from the east and the other from the southeast. So far there do not appear to be any clashes with the Islamic State. A report suggests one stream from the west is blocked at the city of Sabratha. However, it appears that Haftar may be intending to secure the ports guarded by the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG) headed by Ibrahim Jodrhan. Jodhran supports the GNA and its associated oil company based in Tripoli. Haftar supports the HoR and the rival eastern National Oil Company. Jodhran is said to have been replaced by the HoR government of Abdullah al-Thinni. Haftar forces are reported to be in one of the three main ports controlled by the PFG, Ras Lanuf. Haftar may be making sure that the ports oppose the GNA and will resist any attempts to export oil through the Tripoli-based National Oil Company. Some opponents of Haftar suggest he is in league with the Islamic State and that is why IS is attacking to the west but have so far avoided conflict with Haftar's troops. If Haftar soon engages with the Islamic State this will show that such cooperation is not likely.
It is not clear what Kobler intends to do now to force the HoR to provide a vote of confidence in the GNA. A meeting was to be held yesterday in Ghadames but there are no reports so far that it has taken place. The president of the HoR is in the Ivory Coast, so he would not have been there. Kobler has been busy talking to Arab and Russian officials, no doubt trying to enlist their help to force the HoR to join the GNA.. The appended video from a couple of days ago is supposed to show Haftar vehicles on the outskirts of Sirte. This seems unlikely.
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