By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on June 13, 2016
Islamic State convoy, Anbar Province, January 2014
In Libya, the government of national accord (GNA)—in this case militias largely from western Libya, specifically Misrata, and the guards from the oil installations—claimed to have driven the Islamic State (IS) from Sirte on 11 June. Backed by artillery and airstrikes, with tanks moving in on the ground and some street clashes, the GNA-flagged troops had reached the city centre on 9 June. Expelled from Derna in the east in June 2015 and cleared from Sabratha in western Libya after a brief occupation earlier this year, this left Sirte as IS’s only major urban stronghold.
At the end of 2015, IS had controlled about 200 miles of coastline, from Abuqrayn (100 miles west of Sirte) to Nawafaliya (80 miles east of Sirte). On 12 May, an offensive began to take Sirte, coordinated through al-Bunyan al-Marsoos (The Solid Structure) Operations Room. The attack began from the Misratan militias in the west and by late May the eastern front had been opened up. At the end of May, IS lost Nawafaliya, and the collapse of territorial control has been steady since then, with IS now controlling about forty miles of coastline. A Libyan government official was quoted saying, “The battle wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be.” While this is true—100 pro-GNA troops were killed and 500 wounded—there are reasons to be sceptical of the idea that this is the end for IS in Libya, and not just because IS still holds even areas of the Sirte.
IS had been in occupation of Sirte for almost exactly a year, meaning it has been able to accrue considerable resources, and had between 4,000 and 6,000 fighters in the city—composed of defectors from Ansar al-Shari’a (al-Qaeda), local tribes, elements of the fallen regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi, and operatives from IS core. IS has made a show of resistance, but the number of reported IS casualties is low, and the speed with which IS has fallen back makes such early reports plausible. In combination with the continued politico-military dysfunction of the ostensible governing authorities, this is very worrying.