On 9 March, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), warned the US Senate’s foreign affairs committee that Islamic State (ISIS) is regrouping in Libya. He said “The status of ISIS in Libya is they are right now regrouping. They’re in small numbers, small groups.” Waldhauser oversaw the US airstrikes in late January which killed around 80 ISIS fighters south of Sirte. The process of resettling displaced Sirte residents is ongoing, with more than 8600 families back in their homes.
On 13 March, the Libyan National Army (LNA) launched a major offensive to take control of the 12 Flats area of Ganfuda in Benghazi, the last enclave in Ganfuda still held by a coalition of jihadist fighters including the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), Ansar al-Sharia and ISIS. An LNA spokesperson said that three LNA fighters were killed and four injured in the latest offensive, but that several BRSC fighters had also been killed. LNA fighter jets supported the offensive, according to the spokesperson, but the LNA advance is being held up by the presence of civilians in the area. BRSC commander Mohammed Nased Emhareb, BRSC fighters Ibrahim Dayhom and Anis al-Khomsi, and Naseeb Fannoush, an Ansar al-Sharia fighter from Derna, were reportedly among those killed during the recent fighting in the 12 Flats area.
On 14 March, LNA forces launched a counter attack against the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) forces in the Oil Crescent. By the afternoon of 14 March, LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari claimed that the routed BDB forces had retreated to Misrata and Jufra, and that some had been captured. At least 21 LNA fighters were reportedly killed in the offensive. This figure is in addition to the 38 LNA fighters the LNA says have been killed since the BDB offensive started in the Oil Crescent on 3 March. The BDB has not released its casualty figures for this latest battle. The LNA claims to be back in control of Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil ports following intense fighting with the BDB. Photos have emerged of LNA fighters at these ports that seem to confirm this.
The LNA attack followed a large deployment of LNA forces, reportedly comprising over 3,000 armed vehicles, being mobilised in and around Brega, Agilah and Bishr. The LNA also conducted airstrikes daily throughout last week against BDB targets near these ports and in neighbouring towns of Bin Jawwad and Nawfaliyah. On 12 March, five BDB fighters (3 from Benghazi and 2 from Gharyan) were killed in LNA airstrikes against BDB positions in Sidra and Ras Lanuf.
On 12 March, the BDB said its political goal is to protect the right of return for families and former revolutionaries displaced from Benghazi by Khalifa Haftar, while also vowing to fight terrorism and protect Libya’s neighbours. From the LNA’s perspective, the BDB is seen as an extension of the extremist jihadists fighting against the LNA in Benghazi and Derna, in alliance with Islamic State (ISIS) and Ansar al-Sharia. The LNA has accused many tribal and social forces who switched allegiance from the LNA to the BDB of being as traitors.
On 11 March, local sources reported that two LNA fighters were beheaded by the BDB in Ras Lanuf. The LNA Sirte operations room has eulogized the two fighters. UK ambassador to Libya Peter Millet condemned the killings. Local sources report that Younes al-Faidi, who was formerly aligned with Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, is now a commander in the Benghazi Defense Brigades.
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