Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Two-front attack shrinking territory held by Islamic State in Libya

After advancing very close to Sirte and threatening to surround it, forces loyal to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord from the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous operation seem to have paused and may be consolidating their positions.

The apparent pause in the advance from the west happens at the same time as the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), Martin Kobler, is visiting Misrata the home of most of the militia involved in the fight against IS. This has prompted the following tweet:"GNA force progress in #sirt stopped after @KoblerSRSG visit to #Misrata Any body explain?" It may be that the forces are just consolidating their gains and also that the IS plants many mines that must be cleared. Perhaps there are discussions about what the next steps may be. The advance had been rather rapid until recently.
An IS senior leader, Khaled Al-Shayeb, was apparently killed in recent clashes with the Misrata militia. His body was identified by IS prisoners held in Tripoli. He had long been regarded as already dead: Al-Shayeb is a prominent IS senior leader in North Africa and the commander of IS militants in Algeria and Tunisia. He is also the main suspect in the attack that killed many European tourists in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, last year.
On the eastern front, the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG) appear to be continuing to advance.They have now cleared Bin Jawad completely . They have moved on to another town to the west according to the Libya Oberver. All Al-Hassi, spokesperson for the OFG said that the group took control of the town of A-Naufileya, which lies just 120 kilometers from the IS stronghold of Sirte. He claimed that IS has retreated to Harawa which is only 50 kilometers, about 30 miles from Sirte. He said that there were no casualties when the town was taken. Engineering units are busy defusing mines. The Libyan Express also reports on the advance.
Ibrahim Jodhran, who at least until recently headed the PFG, is a supporter of the GNA and an opponent of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). He was fired by the HoR but the firing never seems to have taken effect. There is a recent tweet that claims he has been replaced by the GNA, but apparently he does not object: "#GNA appoints Ali Alahrash head of #OFG (Oil field guard) #Libya " This could be very bad news for Haftar since it will place the PFG and the territory they guard firmly under the control of the GNA, which Haftar does not recognize. Haftar would like to ensure he has control of the three main ports in the oil crescent that the PFG guard.
Haftar is busy with a council of war. One of the topics is plans for liberating Sirte. He has been advancing on the IS for weeks and has yet to have a single engagement with them. His latest actions in his Operation Volcano against the Shura Council of Derna, is to bomb headquarters of Korean and Turkish companies in the city. The Shura Council of Derna Jihadists were instrumental in clearing out IS from Derna. However, the Council includes Ansar al-Sharia branded as a terrorist group and responsible for the attack on the US embassy. Haftar chooses to pick his terrorists to attack on strategic grounds but all his enemies are branded as Islamic terrorists. Westerners laughed when Gadaffi said that. If Haftar does not act soon, those loyal to the GNA may have already captured the IS stronghold of Sirte.


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