Forces of the so-called ‘Benghazi Defence Brigades’ (BDB) backed by tribal fighters led by Ibrahim Jathran and Chadian mercenaries this morning attacked Libya’s Oil Crescent Region along three axes.
It was understood that BDB forces are now in control of Ras Lanuf including its industrial area and airport while heavy clashes continue to the south of al-Sidrah which is still controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA). LNA units in Ras Lanuf have retreated eastward to the town of Bishr (120 km west of Ajdabiya).
Ibrahim Jathran, a tribal militia commander whose forces used to control the Oil Crescent before losing it to the LNA in September 2016, today appeared in a video where he claimed that the attacking force was operating under Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). He has further claimed that the attacking forces are made up of his tribal militia (aka Petroleum Facilities Guard) and “Tebu and backup forces”. Reliable sources have confirmed to this website that the dark-skinned fighters whom he has referred to as “Tebu” are in fact Chadian mercenaries, and that the “backup forces” are BDB militants.
The situation on the ground is developing rapidly as the LNA continues to deploy further units while its Air Force said their planes are conducting offensive and reconnaissance sorties over the area.
Oil workers have evacuated al-Sidrah in the early hours of today following reports of an imminent attack. The oil terminal was later closed after one of its storage tanks was hit by a shell said to have been fired by the attackers. At least 2 members of LNA’s 210th Battalion were killed during the clashes in al-Sidrah.
Today’s attack comes after several failed attempts to reclaim the region made over the last three years by both the BDB and Jathran forces. Reports that these two unlikely allies were plotting a fresh attack have been floating around for about a month. On Tuesday we reported eyewitness accounts that the same forces were seen regrouping in al-Sdadah, a desert area near Misrata, in what appears now as final touches to BDB’s anticipated operation.
The timing of today’s attack seems to be linked to the current operation in Darnah. A previous BDB attack has taken place in similar circumstances when the LNA was about to announce the liberation of Benghazi’s western district of Qanfoudah. The idea behind the timing is to undermine the campaign against Darnah’s Mujahedeen Shura Council. It is worth noting that today’s attack came after repeated Fatwas and public pleas to rescue the Mujahedeen made by al-Sadiq al-Gheriani, a controversial cleric whom both the BDB and the Mijahdeen Shura Council have publicly declared as their spiritual leader.
Jathran was selected to act as figurehead of today’s attack in the hope that his links to the region’s largest tribe, al-Magharbah, would discourage resistance. Interestingly, BDB’s general commander Yasser al-Jebali, was killed on Saturday in mysterious circumstance near Misrata, allegedly in a car accident.
Unconfirmed media reports have claimed today that Misrata’s ‘Third Force’ militia was also plotting attacks against the LNA-controlled airbases of al-Jufrah and al-Shati. The same reports claimed that Misrata’s anti-GNA Military Council was behind the operation in the hope that both the Oil Crescent and al-Jufrah would serve as “buffer zones against the LNA following the conclusion of the operation in Darnah”.
It is highly unlikely that the BDB would be able to maintain control over the area for more than two days for lacking logistical supply lines and sufficient manpower. In fact, if the LNA can act swiftly, it could achieve a conclusive victory given that the bulk of the attacking force is now exposed in open areas surrounded by LNA units in Harawah and al-Sidrah (northwest), Maradah (south) and Bishr (east); an ideal setting for a crushing pincer movement.