In Sirte, fighting halted last week, but resumed fiercely on 27 August. The break in the fighting was reportedly to allow wives and children of ISIS fighters to exit the conflict zone towards the southwest, though there is no evidence confirming this actually took place. It is likely that key ISIS commanders will have taken advantage of this lull in fighting to escape to the south, meaning the destruction of ISIS in Sirte will not mean the eradication of ISIS in Libya.
On 28 August, Bunyan Marsus (BM) fighters aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) closed in on ISIS-held districts 1 and 3 of Sirte. At least 35 were killed and more than 180 injured as a result of fierce fighting and reportedly 14 attempted SVBIED attacks by ISIS. BM sources say that five of these were neutralised by US airstrikes, four where destroyed by BM fighters before impact, while five others managed to hit their targets. SVBIED’s, together with IEDs, booby traps and sniper fire, accounts for the majority of BM casualties. It is unclear if BM forces have either the training or the resolve to push past this relentless wave of attacks. In fact, we see that ISIS in Libya deploys different, but related tactics to ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
One way of analysing the mass use of SVBIEDs is that ISIS fighters are making a suicidal last stand against the advance of Misratan-led BM fighters. Another way is they have calculated that this approach may successfully dissuade Misratan fighters from completely liberating Sirte. ISIS areas of control are now limited to two clusters in residential districts 1 and 3, which are not directly contiguous areas, in addition to pockets of resistance in residential district 2.
Meanwhile, unpublicized reports indicate that an ISIS cell of fighters from Derna has been detained inside Misrata. This development could potentially provoke an ISIS retaliation.
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.