ISIS IN ACTION On 17 December, the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj officially declared the military operation against Islamic State (ISIS) in Sirte complete and victorious. Although the city is now under the control of the Misratan-led al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces, threats still remain from booby traps, IEDs and remnant ISIS fighters. Mine clearance operations are ongoing, as well as the collection of corpses and the sanitisation of the city.
On 12 December, Mukhtar al-Madani was elected by the Sirte Municpal Council as the city’s local mayor. A day later, BM commanders appointed Brigadier Ahmed Abu Shahma as ‘military governor’ of Sirte in an apparent reaction to the election of a ‘pro Haftar’ mayor.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said last week that Operation Odyssey Lightening continues despite the official victory against ISIS. According to media reports, AFRICOM is continuing to monitor Sirte and its environs, in coordination with the GNA, and to provide the support needed to clear the city.
WESTERN RESPONSE On 13-14 December, representatives from several countries attended a two-day conference organised by UNSMIL in Tunis with some members of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The main purpose of the meetings was to discuss support for the establishment of the Presidential Council’s (PC) fledging Presidential Guard (PG) as a functioning military force. The event was attended by the head of the PG Colonel Najmi al-Nakua, PC members Ahmed Metig and Fathi Majbary, and the GNA Minister of Defence Mahdi al-Barghathi. According to diplomats who attended, the conference was told that 580 soldiers have been selected for the Presidential Guard. A further 900 soldiers and 160 police officers are still required. PC member and Haftar loyalist Ali al-Gutrani blasted UNSMIL’s “trusteeship conference” in Tunis and international backing for the PG, calling it a breach of Libyan sovereignty.
On 13 December, members of both pro and anti Government of National Accord (GNA) factions within the House of Representatives (HoR) met with Egypt’s Chief of Staff and Foreign Minister in Cairo. The talks produced a 5 point proposal which calls for critical amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), the dialogue committee, and the Presidential Council (PC). The proposal also called for a neutral entity to hold supreme command of the army and an amendment of the controversial article (8) clause. This clause currently prevents Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar from holding a position of power within Libya’s armed forces.
On 14 December, the HoR President Ageelah Saleh visited Russia to meet with his counterpart in the Kremlin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. This followed Haftar’s own visit to Moscow ten days before. Russia formally supports the UN-backed LPA, but there are indications that Russia seeks to bolster the position of Haftar and the anti-GNA faction in the HoR. However, Russia is also engaging with political actors on the pro-GNA side of the political rift. On 12 December, the Russian ambassador to Libya, Ivan Molotkov, met with the GNA Defence Minister Colonel Mahdi al-Barghathi for talks on the maintenance of Russian-made armaments within the control of the PC. Barghati is strongly anti-Haftar and is rumoured to have been involved in planning the failed counter attack against Haftar.
On 18 December, Haftar traveled to Algeria where he met the Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs and the Prime Minister. This indicates a new thawing of relations between Algeria and Haftar. The purpose of the trip was ostensibly counter-terrorism coordination, which suggests that Algeria may now support an inclusive role for Haftar in leading the Libyan armed forces.
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