ISIS control of Libya’s coastline has been reduced to approximately 200 km east and west of Sirte. Significant gains made by the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) forces converging on Sirte from the west and southwest have thrown the ISIS rank and file into noticeable chaos. Sirte has become nearly deserted, with locals estimating that more than 70 percent of the city’s residents have fled. GNA airstrikes continued to hit targets in the city this week in support of an imminent ground assault. ISIS could possibly target facilities in the western region to slow the momentum of forces from Misrata, and to stem additional losses of territory.
Weekly Timeline: On 25 May, Bunyan Marsus operations room ground forces advanced with air support to the 50km checkpoint west of Sirte. Meanwhile, aircraft from Misrata conducted strikes against ISIS positions at the Baghla crossing, the 50km and 30km checkpoints, and other key targets inside Sirte. The operations room reported that an entire ISIS contingent was killed while attacking the Baghla crossing. An ISIS suicide vehicle attack at Istiraha Nakhil near Sirte was averted when a reconnaissance team destroyed the vehicle before it reached its target. According to the operations room, approximately 100 ISIS militants were killed during the fighting on 25 May. Sources from inside Sirte reported increasing anxiety and chaos among ISIS members inside Sirte as corpses and injured fighters arrived at the city’s main Ibn Sina hospital.
On May 26, ISIS claimed three SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosion Device) attacks on Misrata’s forces, saying that the attacks killed more than 100. However, these claims seem to be greatly exaggerated, based on known casualty figures.
On 28 May, Bunyan Marsus forces consolidated their control over the 30km checkpoint, while reconnaissance units advanced to the steam power station on the western outskirts of Sirte. Fierce battles were reported on the perimeter of the power station, resulting in the withdrawal of ISIS forces and approximately 30 killed. The operations room also said that it had destroyed four more SVBIED’s before reaching their target.
On the same day, details were released about the death of an alleged ISIS mastermind who was reportedly killed during a battle between the Bunyan Marsus operations room and ISIS last week. An unnamed official from the Libyan Attorney General’s office said that one of the bodies identified was that of a Tunisian named Khalid Al Shayeb, or “Abu Sakhr.” Abu Sakhr was said to be the head of all ISIS operations in North Africa on behalf of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. His body was reportedly recognized and verified by different parties, including ISIS militants held captive by the GNA in Tripoli. The death of Abu Sakhr comes as a surprise, since he was previously reported deceased by a number of agencies, including the Tunisian authorities. He was a key leader in establishing ISIS in Libya, suspected of being the architect of the Bardo Museum attack, and of taking part in many of the assassinations of Libyan military officers. Abu Sakhr is believed to have died during the fighting on 25 May when an entire ISIS contingent was killed trying to recapture the strategic Baghla crossing southwest of Sirte.
A weekly update of ISIS’s actions, the Western response, and developments pertaining to Libya’s other militias is available by subscribing here. To read about Western countries’ responses to ISIS in Libya this week, click here. To read the Eye on ISIS in Libya Team’s blog post about the actions of other jihadi actors, click here. And to read their explanation of the developments within the anti-ISIS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here.