Leak Reveals Western Support for Opposition in Libya

In Sirte, the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Bunyan Marsus coalition continues to advance pinning ISIS into an ever smaller part of the city — tightening the noose around ISIS militants holed up in its central areas. Sirte’s port remains under the control of Bunyan Marsus, but clashes with ISIS continue to take place around the port’s western perimeter. GNA naval boats are blockading the port, while intense fighting is now taking place near the Ouagadougou Centre, ISIS’s main stronghold, with Misratans making heavy use of airstrikes and artillery fire to take out ISIS snipers. Bunyan Marsus leaders say that the coalition has killed large numbers of ISIS fighters who have attempted to break out of their encirclement — lashing out by launching Grad missiles at Bunyan Marsus forces on 10 July in the first, second and third residential districts as well as in the university campus. Bunyan Marsus leaders have optimistically said they expect the battle to be completed within the next two weeks, although most serious analysts predict a more drawn out battle.

There is a suspicion that the senior ISIS leadership has already evacuated from Sirte. Informed sources say that Libyan ISIS members have attempted to defect to friendly Islamist militias south of Sirte, some of whom are nominally aligned with the Misratans. The Misratans are also increasingly bitter at what they see as the failure of Fayez Serraj and the GNA’s Presidency Council to provide supplies and armaments that they need for the operation.  This bitterness could increase the likelihood of a new Misratan-Islamist convergence against the GNA once the anti-ISIS campaign in Sirte has concluded.

On 8 July, a widely publicized leak shed light on active Western military support for Khalifa Haftar and the LNA. Air traffic recordings, reportedly obtained from inside the LNA’s Benina Air Force Base suggest that Haftar is receiving support from French, British and US forces, despite his opposition to the UN-Mediated and Internationally supported Government of National Accord (GNA). The tapes feature pilots and air traffic controllers speaking in Arabic and English, with separate British, American, French and Italian accents being heard.

The leak has caused disarray in the GNA camp, especially within the ranks of Islamists.  This new information is seen as evidence of a Western betrayal of the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement that produced the GNA. This development is likely to fuel further suspicion within the GNA’s coalition, and could possibly facilitate some reunions between Misratans and Islamist hardliners .  Their alliance was previously split during the political dialogue, in favor of rapprochement between ‘moderate’ Misratan forces with those of the eastern Federalists.

Speaking at a House of Lords Committee hearing on 7 July, Britain’s Ambassador to Libya Peter Millett said that he that he had visited Tripoli five times since the arrival of the GNA, and that he had stayed overnight on his last visit. He said that the British Embassy’s presence was currently only in Tripoli, and that one or two British Embassy representatives would be in Tripoli “every week” from now on.  Millet did not provide a date for the formal reopening of the embassy.  On ISIS, Millett said there has been “rapid progress” that has forced ISIS into a “very small area of Sirte.”  He said it was not clear if the lower numbers of ISIS in Sirte were because ISIS had “dispersed” within Libya during the battle, and noted that if this was the case, ISIS in Libya would now “pose a different type of threat,” implying ISIS is returning to its roots as an insurgent rather than a state builder.

Libya-Analysis is the most read independent English-language blog on Libyan affairs. It is run by Jason Pack, founder of EyeOnISISinLibya.com and researcher of World History at Cambridge University