Libya is witnessing armed chaos and division of regions as well as cities, while battles and conflicts are occurring between extremist militias and the Libyan army near Libyan cities. A lot of militias spread in Libya; all of them were formed after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. The major armament assets of these brigades came from the stockpiles of the regime that kept amassing weapons over decades. This is why a lot of these militias appeared as small armies driving armoured vehicles in the streets and within cities, and they frequently use RPGs in the smallest confrontations.
In Tobruk and most of Cyrenaica’ areas in east Libya, except Derna, the Libyan army imposes control, under the leadership of the Presidency of the General Staff, controlled by Khalifa Haftar, and allied with the legitimate parliament and government. In Derna, most of the brigades are religious, including Ansar Al-Sharia militia close to Al-Qaeda, in addition to militias affiliated to Islamic State struggling for the power against Ansar Al-Sharia. Most of Benghazi became under the control of the Libyan army, except enclaves in Al-Lithy and Al-Qawarsha in which fanatics affiliated to what they call Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries are active; the council has been fighting the Libyan army since last May, when Operation Dignity was launched. In Sirte, Islamic State imposes control on the city and involved in battles against everyone.
Tribalism is controlling south Libya, where security is absent, due to its difficult geographical nature, which helped extremist militias to spread, in addition to mercenaries groups coming from African countries who share the opened desert borders with Libya. In central Libya, where the Oil Crescent is, units of Petroleum Facilities Guard (affiliated to the army) are in control. They have been involved in battles for more than two months, defending oil facilities against militias affiliated to Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn). On the other hand, western militias are mostly based in big cities. Misrata is the stronghold of Fajr Libya militias that allied previously with fanatics to bring down the parliament and fight the Libyan army.
In Tripoli, battles erupted between Zintan brigades affiliated to the army and militias of Fajr Libya, which ended in favour of the militia. The military authority that belongs to the Libyan Army is establishing its centre point in the city of Al-Zantan, southwest Libya, so that its influences will be extended to the outskirts of Tunisian borders.
Almost one week ago, when the massacre against Egyptians occurred in Libya, some of its secrets were revealed. Thus, Islamic State had committed this massacre two weeks before the date of the video release.
Before this crime occurred, abductees had asked to call their family for the last time in Egypt, a petition which was refused. Abomosab Altunis said that “the massacre against Egyptians occurred more than two weeks ago; however the video was released a few hours ago, waiting for the release of the monthly edition of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s magazine, which includes some photos that show the preparation for the massacre”. He added on one of the jihadist’s websites that the massacre should be considered as an effective message to Egyptian Copts.
A security report released by Libya revealed that the leader of the massacre’s operation is British, of a Libyan mother, and, as a result of joining Islamic State some time ago, he is wanted by the British security agencies. He travelled to Syria and was trained there by the Islamic State. After that, he moved to Iraq, then to Libya. Moreover, it was mentioned in the report that the refusal of the abductees’ petition was due to two reasons: the first was because there are no rights to atheistic prisoners, and the second was to avoid the monitoring of the calls and recognition of the detention place of the abductees.
Furthermore, the majority of the executors, who are responsible for the abduction’s operation, are supporters of Al-Sharia in Libya and are also supporters for the Islamic State, and all this is organised by the Islamic State’s central leadership in Iraq.
All attempts of mediation by the security entities in Egypt through Libyan tribes failed to set them free. News reports on their fate were conflicting, until the Islamic State declared they were slain in a video entitled “a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross”.
Saqr Al-Jaroushi, head of Libya’s Air Force, announced then that he was the one in charge of the Egyptian air strike on the terrorist Islamic State’s strongholds, affirming that Al Jazeera’s claims that the air strikes resulted in the death of Libyan citizens are false.
He also added that the Egyptian air strike was very accurate in hitting only the terrorist group’s strongholds in Darnah. “This is my testimony to God as well as the Egyptian and Libyan people.”
Al-Jaroushi pointed out that spreading rumours and lies about the Egyptian army aim to create slander between the two sides, confirming that security for the two states is important, these two states whose historical relations are very strong. The terrorist group is a threat to both countries, which affirms their need to make efforts together.
It is noteworthy that the terrible crime, which was not the first to be committed against Egyptians working in Libya, gave Egypt the legitimacy to strike any terrorist strongholds in Libya. Regarding the army’s land advance, with the knowledge of the Libyan army, in Darnah, it has not been decided yet. To date, it appears there will be Egyptian/Libyan strikes on the terrorist group’s centres only, without setting a date for the land strike.
Intelligence reports will set the convenient time for the strike to hit. The Egyptian armed forces also hit other regions around Benghazi, Sirte, and Misrata and published videos for the strike and the aftermath of the damage inflicted on the training camps of the group in Darnah, with expectations of continuing military operations to damage the striking force of the Islamic State.
While the Presidential Palace called for an international action by the Security Council against the countries supporting and financing the terrorist group, there are some direct and indirect communications with the neighbouring states to form an entity to intervene. The entity will consist of the Egyptian side as well as Algeria and Tunisia, with the support of units from Italy and France to tighten control on the entrance of weapons and ammunition as well as dealing with the threats of the group against Egypt and Italy. Actions also included attempts to convince the neighbouring states to close land borders under the control of the terrorist group in Libya, with the aim of tightening control and prohibition to use other states’ land areas for their terrorist attacks or making them the centre of weapon storage or training.
The first option of Egyptian responses were the air strikes, however, that’s not the final option, especially after intelligence information came in about terrorist formations moving in groups outside Darnah after the strikes. A number of them headed towards the port, while the rest headed to the area of Wadi Al-Hamra, which lies between Darnah and Al Bayda cities. This was confirmed by Brigadier Saqr Al-Jaroushi, leader of the Libyan Air Force, which is working in coordination with its Egyptian counterpart.
Egypt needs to adopt a joint action in Sirte in order to unravel terrorist organisations that need specific intervention, military and naval, in both Sirte and Darnah. There is also a need to stop Turkish ships from transferring Libyan oil to Israel in order to stop direct financing injected into the terrorist organisations’ accounts.
Finally, it seems that striking a blow at the Tripoli airport is unlikely, because it’s far from the Egyptian borders and bases from which jets launch, especially with the ambiguity of both the Algerian and Tunisian situations.
However, there is a great demand on paralysing armaments of terrorists, especially with the availability of great opportunities due to the agreement among Egyptian, Italian and French sides on blowing strikes on a wider scale, with efforts supported by Europe in order to allow operations to continue under the approval of the Security Council.
Khaled Okasha is security analyst and director of the Egyptian National Centre for Security Studies