Islamic State seizes Sirte airport in Libya
The Al-Ghardabiya airport, just south of the city of Sirte has fallen into the hands of fighters associated with the Islamic State. The capture was confirmed by Battalion 166 of the Tripoli government.
The battalion withdrew from the airport on Thursday. The battalion withdrew after its request for reinforcements from the central government was not answered. Much of Sirte is already under control of the Islamic State but part of the port and a main power station is still under control of forces linked to the Tripoli government. IS also issued a statement claiming that it had seized control of the Great Man Made River water project that provides water and irrigation for several Libyan cities. The airport had been completely emptied of equipment except for one military plane that was not functional according to Mohamad al-Shami a GNC spokesperson. Even though IS has been active in Libya only three months or so it has already declared three states within the regions they control.A BBC map provides a helpful guide to who controls what in Libya. Often control of cities is shared by several groups. Even in Derna and Sirte IS shares control with other jihadists a fact often lost in reports, and in Sirte they do not control all of the city. In the South of Libya militias that rarely get mentioned in the news control large areas but often sparsely populated. Tuareg militia control a large area in eastern Libya and Toubou militia control much of Libya south of the city of Sabha. The importance of IS in this huge mess of militias in conflict is perhaps stressed too much by western media. For the west IS is always portrayed as the big threat to peace when often other factors are more important. In Libya it is the conflict between Khalifa Haftar head of the Tobruk government armed forces and the Tripoli government which seems to me the biggest threat to Libya. If that conflict were resolved by forming a unity government then the Islamic State could probably be contained successfully. However, Haftar seems bound and determined to seek a military solution.A recent bombing of a tanker in Sirte by planes of the internationally recognized Tobruk was directed not at the Islamic State but against the forces of the Tripoli government. Sirte is one of the home towns of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and many were fiercely loyal to him. Sirte was one of the last cities to fall to the rebels. Gadaffi was very much opposed to Islamists and many were arrested and tortured in his jails. After Gadaffi had improved relations with the west he was regarded as a strong supporter of the war on terrorism and Libya was at times a destination for rendition of suspects. In Libyan jails suspects would be interrogated and often tortured.Many former Gadaffi loyalists apparently have joined the Islamic State and are fighting against both the Tripoli government and the Tobruk government. While there are huge ideological differences between former Gadaffi loyalists and most IS supporters, the loyalists feel that the revolution brought them little and they also oppose both governments. IS controls cities in both jurisdictions with Sirte being in an area governed by Tripoli, and the city of Derna further east in territory controlled by the Tobruk government. Derna has a long history of Islamic radicalism. It has been controlled by jihadists for ages even under Gadaffi. The Al-Qaeda linked group Ansar al-Sharia has recently seen many of its members defect and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State who have established themselves as the main power in Derna. The city has been attacked by air by planes from the Tobruk government and Egypt as well, after a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded.