Thursday, March 16, 2017

Benghazi Defence Brigades seize two oil ports in Libya

(March 3)Reuters reports that the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) a number of miliita groups opposed to Haftar and supporters of the few remnants of the Benghazi Shura Council left in Benghazi have entered two major oil ports in the Libyan Oil Crescent.

Eastern commander Marshall Khalifa Haftar had captured four major ports in the Crescent back in September last year from the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) that operated them then. He agreed to let the National Oil Company run the ports and export oil. No doubt there is some agreement about splitting the revenue but the press never talks about it. Haftar does not recognize the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) but the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government.
The fighting could interrupt attempts to revive Libyan oil production. The terminals said to be under attack Es Sider and Ras Lanuf are two of Libya's largest with total combined capacity about 600,000 barrels a day. Reuters said that the extent to which the BDB had gained control of the two ports was not clear. Several earlier attacks by the BDB and other groups were unsuccessful. While the LNA claimed the ports were well secured the BDB launched a three-pronged attack that broke through defenses apparently. An attack on a third port Brega was thwarted using airstrikes. The LNA apparently withdrew men and equipment from around Es Sider and Ras Lanuf in order to avoid a firefight and damaging terminals according to LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari.
According to port engineers and residents the BDB entered both ports after their attack. The BDB has posted photos of fighters at the nearby Ras Lanuf air strip. Although the LNA later said it had retaken control this has not been confirmed. There have been many tweets about what is happening some of them contradictory. A medical source claimed that at least nine men loyal to the Libyan National Army of Haftar were killed and 8 wounded in the fighting. Each side accuses the other of using mercenaries in the clashes. Some easterners also think the BDB is supported by the GNA although the Presidency Council(PC) of the GNA has condemned the raids and claims to have nothing to do with them.
The PC claimed that it had not instructed any force to move toward the area of the ports and said: “We announce that we don’t have any kind of relationship with the armed escalation that happened today in the oil crescent area...The PC reaffirms that oil is the only income for all Libyans and must stay aside from any kind of struggle”. It also said the attacks sought to destabilize reconciliation efforts.
While Libya's oil output has more than doubled from early last year to about 700,000 barrels a day this is still far below the 1.6 million barrels per day before the 2011 revolution. Tankers had been loading at Es Sider since last December. The National Oil Company (NOC) has been urging foreign firms to return to Libya and invest in the oil and gas sector. Attacks on the oil ports will make investors think twice before investing because of the security situation. The NOC hopes to have production back to 1.2 million barrels per day by later this year.
According to the Libya Herald, the LNA spokesperson admitted that it had lost control of part of Ras Lanauf including the hospital. However, LNA sources denied that Es Sider was under control of the BDB in spite of a number of reports that the LNA had pulled back from the port.
The Libya Observer reports that the BDB took control of the Ras Lanuf Airport, as well as the towns of Ben Jawad and Nofaliya . Sources from BDB also claimed that Dignity Operation (Haftar's LNA forces) launched 12 airstrikes on the BDB but failed to halt their advance. Although the BDB call their operation "Return to Benghazi" they are still about 230 kilometers west of Benghazi. It seems unlikely that they can advance to the city without being decimated. The Observer claims there were demonstrations in support of the DBD in Misrata and Tripoli.
Libya's Grand Mufti Sadiq Al-Gharyani has long supported the BDB and said that victory was looming and called on residents in east Libya to join the BDB to liberate Benghazi from Haftar and the Dignity Operation. Other groups such as the Libyan Elders' Council and the Tajoura elders also praised the operation. However, as mentioned the GNA condemned the attacks and denied any links to them. The Defense Ministry said as well if both parties refused to comply with a call for a cease fire it would send a force to the region itself. I expect this is just bluff. The GNA cannot even dislodge attempted coup leader Ghwell from his headquarters in the Rixos hotel complex in Tripoli. It would be wise not to get involved with the LNA or BDB.
There are many tweets on the issue often in disagreement. One tweet claims: "BDB will never be able to hold the oil crescent area. Just not possible. Not military & not in terms of popular support base. #Libya" Another tweet replied: "@Eljarh Mohamed hold your horses, u were tweeting all the day unconfirmed/wrong news, not clear yet 4:51 PM - 3 Mar 2017" We should know better tomorrow how things are shaping up. Personally I am surprised that the BDB was able to get as far as it has as other attacks have failed miserably.

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