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Resurgence of Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB) likely linked to Libyan National Army’s (LNA) recent preoccupation in Derna – Libya Analysis

Executive Summary

The June 14 attack against the Oil Crescent is highly notable as the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) control over this area has remained largely unchallenged since March 2017.

The LNA’s preoccupation in hostilities in other parts of the country over the past year, combined with widespread cross-border smuggling of weapons and fighters across Libya’s southern borders likely allowed SDB fighters to regroup in southern Libya.

The timing of the latest attack is significant as it attempted to capitalize upon the LNA’s preoccupation in ongoing operations in Derna, aimed at dislodging the al-Qaeda-linked Derna Protection Force (DPF) from the city.

Ibrahim al-Jathran’s mentioning of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) as the country’s only “legitimate” government in his statement is likely deliberate and part of an effort by al-Jathran to gain legitimacy for the attack.

Although the LNA was able to successfully repel the attack, it will likely divert further troops to the area over the coming hours and days to fortify all the installations in the Oil Crescent.

Those conducting business at the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals are advised to compensate for anticipated delays in operations on June 15 and over the coming days due to the closure of the facilities.

Resurgence of Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB) likely linked to Libyan National Army’s (LNA) recent preoccupation in Derna - Libya Analysis | MAX SecurityMAX Security

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Current Situation

During the morning hours of June 14, an armed group led by Ibrahim al-Jathran, a former commander of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil fields in the Oil Crescent.

According to a video released by al-Jathran, the attack was supported by the Magharba tribe and the Tebu militia. According to the Libyan National Army (LNA), the al-Qaeda-linked Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB) was behind the attack. The LNA confirmed that the group of SDB fighters were led by al-Jathran. Further unconfirmed reports also indicate the involvement of armed groups from Chad.

Al-Jathran claimed that the attack was aimed at freeing the region from the ‘‘terrorist and extremist’’ LNA forces in an effort to end the ‘‘injustice’’ in the oil crescent. He further stated that the GNA has sole legitimacy in the country.

The GNA released a statement saying that it had not authorized any military action in the OIl Crescent and condemned the attack as a “terrorist operation”.

The LNA has diverted troops and aircraft to the area to repel the attack. Furthermore, the Libyan Air Force (LAF) has launched multiple airstrikes against the armed group over the past 24 hours. The LNA claims that the oil ports are under the control of its forces and that the attack was successfully repelled. At least four LNA soldiers have been killed as a result of the clashes.

However, unconfirmed reports indicate that the clashes are still ongoing and that the armed group has taken control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals.

The National Oil Corporation (NOC) has declared “force majeure” at both oil fields and evacuated all workers out of the area.

Assessments & Forecast

This development is highly notable as the LNA’s control over the Oil Crescent has remained largely unchallenged since March 2017, when LNA forces launched a counter-offensive against the SDB and the PFG, who had temporarily taken control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals. The LNA initially took control of the Oil Crescent from the PFG in an attack against the group in December 2016, after the SDB officially handed over control of the oil terminals to the GNA-linked forces. Meanwhile, although the SDB indicated its willingness to disband in June 2017 after its substantial losses against the LNA in the Jufra District, the large-scale nature of this attack indicates that the militant group has successfully managed to regroup and regain at least part of its capabilities over the past year.

This bolsters our previous assessment that SDB fighters will likely disperse to more remote areas in the latter half of 2017 to regroup. Several factors likely facilitated the resurgence of the SDB at this time. Firstly, the LNA’s preoccupation in hostilities in other parts of the country, such as in the Warshefana District, Benghazi, Sebha, Derna, and the Sirte Basin, over the past year likely allowed SDB fighters to regroup in southern Libya, which remains largely controlled by tribal militias and is out of the jurisdiction of both the LNA and the GNA, without being detected by security forces. Secondly, widespread cross-border smuggling of weapons and fighters across LIbya’s southern borders with Sudan and Chad, likely allowed the militant group to reinforce its offensive capabilities. Thirdly, reports regarding LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s ill health in April may have bolstered the morale of SDB fighters, enabling the group to further ramp up its operations. All of these factors combined allowed the militant group to launch its first attack in over a year on May 31 against the LAF-controlled Tamanhint Airbase, and temporarily take control of the facility.

The timing of the latest attack is significant as it comes amid the LNA’s ongoing operations in Derna, aimed at dislodging the al-Qaeda-linked Derna Protection Force (DPF) from the city. Therefore, the armed group was likely attempting to capitalize upon the fact that LNA forces currently remain overstretched across eastern Libya, which increases the possibility of success of an attack against the Oil Crescent at this time. This attack serves the aims of both former PFG members as well as the SDB. If successful, the attack would provide both groups with vast resources. They would be able to sell the oil from the production facilities on the black market and fund their operations in Libya. That said, even if the attack was not successful, it would elevate al-Jathran’s status in the country and bring the commander back to light after a two year hiatus. With regards to the SDB, such an attack would deprive the LNA of vital revenue from oil exports. It would also compel the LNA to divert troops and resources away from their ongoing operations in Derna, thus, providing at least partial relief to the al-Qaeda-linked DPF in the city.

Furthermore, al-Jathran’s statement is notable as it specifically mentions the UN-backed GNA, calling it the country’s “legitimate” government. This was likely deliberate and part of an effort by al-Jathran to gain legitimacy for the attack. This underscores a larger trend in Libya, wherein various armed actors in the country utilize the lack of a sovereign political authority for their own gains. This lack of a unified government has created ambiguity in territorial jurisdiction, allowing various armed groups to proliferate and operate along the fringes. This not only highlights Libya’s volatile political environment but also the threat posed by it to vital infrastructure located in the country.

However, the fact that the LNA was able to recapture the oil terminals within the span of a day highlights its relative capabilities to defend the oil infrastructure from such armed assaults. FORECAST: Although the LNA was able to successfully repel the attack, it will likely divert further troops to the area over the coming hours and days to fortify all the installations in the Oil Crescent. Furthermore, LNA forces will launch security raids in areas surrounding the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals to hinder the ability of SDB fighters to receive reinforcements from other parts of Libya and mount another similar attack. The LAF will also increase aerial reconnaissance over the Sirte Basin and launch airstrikes against suspected armed convoys belonging to militant groups. It is also possible that foreign aircraft, such as those of the US, will launch airstrikes against militants in the Sirte Basin over the coming days in an effort to secure their interests in the country. This is light of the fact that the UN-backed GNA has denounced the latest attack as a militant operation and this will increase the US’s concerns regarding the growing threat of militancy in Libya. Aerial operations by LNA-allies, such as UAE and Egypt, may also be witnessed over eastern Libya over the coming days. That said, the LNA’s increased preoccupation in the Oil Crescent may slow down its ground offensive against the DPF in Derna in the short-term.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. We advise at this time that those remaining in Tripoli and Benghazi should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to deterioration in the security situation. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Those planning to conduct air travel to, from and inside Libya should avoid entering the area between Marsa al-Brega, Sirte and Sebha, as it was declared a no-fly zone by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

Those conducting business at the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals are advised to compensate for anticipated delays in operations on June 15 and over the coming days due to the closure of the facilities.

Strategic Analysis: Security threats posed by hardcore revolutionary militias in Libya

On November 14, Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) inaugurated Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet, ending this phase of Libya’s political turmoil and solidifying the first post-revolutionary government. However, the process has not been without obstacles. Following the October 31 congressional vote to approve the appointments, armed protesters from the obsessively anti-Gaddafi city of Misrata and other revolutionary groups forced their way into the GNC headquarters in Tripoli, clashing with security personnel and even parliamentarians in a chaotic attempt to protest the inclusion of ex-regime figures.

Tripoli residents hold an anti-militia protest.

These raids targeting the nascent Libyan government have become frequent occurrences of late, as the GNC attempts to address each of the nation’s disparate interests. While revolutionary militias formed the core of Gaddafi opposition, they now arguably (and ironically) present the greatest risk to post-Gaddafi stability.

Despite the newly elected leader’s calls for national reconciliation and strengthening of Libya’s democracy, Zidan’s cabinet has proven to be a sticking point for these revolutionary militias unhappy with the potential inclusion of Gathafi-era officials and dissatisfied with their regional representation. The approval and inauguration of the cabinet represent positive developments for Libya’s political stability, at a time where numerous security and economic challenges threaten the country’s foundation. Still, public disapproval for both the nominations and the GNC’s affirmative votes underscores the level of popular discontent and the potential that the country could easily destabilize yet again.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Security threats posed by hardcore revolutionary militias in Libya