In May, the Government of National Accord (GNA), the Western backed Libyan government, launched a military campaign in order to liberate the Libyan city of Sirte from DAESH. This battle has proved more difficult than expected, recently leading to direct military intervention by the United States through air strikes conducted against DAESH positions in the city. The more than 300 American strikes started in August and quickly destroyed the few DAESH tanks and armored vehicles that were there, but did little to push DAESH out of the city. This is a surprise to analysts who predicted a swift victory against DEASH militants who have only controlled the city for a year. These strikes have continued as recently as late November and are being coordinated out of US Africa Command in Germany. In return, Sirte has become a magnet for foreign Islamic fighters from across Africa.
Is Victory Near?
Although the Libyan government has claimed victory in the Battle for Sirte numerous times over the last few months, it seems that victory is close. There are only a few DAESH positions held throughout the city. Street fighting, snipers, and IEDs continue to be a problem for government forces and Misrata militias. Reports estimate that there are anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand DAESH fighters still in the city. As the militias and government forces slowly clear buildings, they often find caches of weapons, terrorists’ personal effects, and receipts for payments to Egyptian, Sudanese, Senegalese, Gambian, and Tunisian fighters.
Sirte and Mosul
Are there lessons that can be learned form the ongoing operation against DAESH in Sirte? Many have predicted that Mosul would be DAESH’s last stand and that victory there would come quickly. Currently, DAESH still holds Mosul and their tenaciousness in Sirte has quietly taken the region by surprise. Are Iraqis, the Kurds, and the other players in for a much tougher battle in Mosul than expected?
The battle for Sirte has been as much about supporting the Western backed unity government in Tripoli as it is about defeating DAESH. However, DAESH is quietly hedging their bets. Its militants are already shifting focus to other cities in Libya like Bani Walid and Ghat. These cities have a history of being anti-government, which makes them ripe ground for supporting Islamic terrorism. Only the Misrata militias are holding DAESH back from conquering large swathes of the country like they did in Syria and Iraq.
The Misrata militias are Libya’s dominant fighting force. Misrata is a city located between Sirte and Tripoli, the capital. It was the Misrata militias who invaded Tripoli, hunted down and killed Gaddafi, and have been fighting Islamic militants, including DAESH, ever since. The Misrata militias are led by the group Al Bunyan Al Marsoos (BM). BM is the group coordinating the liberation of Sirte and has command over all ground forces for, including government forces and US Special Forces and intelligence personnel embedded with them.