In Sirte, fighting halted last week but resumed fiercely on 27 August. The break in the fighting was reportedly to allow wives and children of ISIS fighters to exit the conflict zone towards the southwest, though there is no evidence confirming this actually took place. It is likely that key ISIS commanders will have taken advantage of this lull in fighting to escape to the south, meaning the destruction of ISIS in Sirte will not mean the eradication of ISIS in Libya. For more thoughts on this theme, click here.
On 28 August, Bunyan Marsus (BM) fighters aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) closed in on ISIS-held districts 1 and 3 of Sirte. At least 35 were killed and more than 180 injured as a result of fierce fighting and reportedly 14 attempted SVBIED attacks by ISIS. BM sources say that five of these were neutralised by US airstrikes, four where destroyed by BM fighters before impact, while five others managed to hit their targets. SVBIED’s, together with IEDs, booby traps and sniper fire, accounts for the majority of BM casualties. It is unclear if BM forces have either the training or the resolve to push past this relentless wave of attacks. In fact, we see that ISIS in Libya deploys different, but related tactics to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. For more on use of IEDs by ISIS, see Barak Barfi’s piece in the CTC Sentinel.
One way of analysing the mass use of SVBIEDs is that ISIS fighters are making a suicidal last stand against the advance of Misratan-led BM fighters. Another way is they have calculated that this approach may successfully dissuade Misratan fighters from completely liberating Sirte. ISIS areas of control are now limited to two clusters in residential districts 1 and 3, which are not directly contiguous areas, in addition to pockets of resistance in residential district 2.
Meanwhile, unpublicized reports indicate that an ISIS cell of fighters from Derna has been detained inside Misrata. This development could potentially provoke an ISIS retaliation.
On 24 August, the Presidential Council (PC) issued statement accepting the House of Representatives (HoR) vote of no-confidence in the current Government of National Accord (GNA), adding that it will draw up a new list of GNA ministers for its approval, while current ministers will continue in office in a caretaker role until the new government is voted on.
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler, US Special Envoy Jonathan Winer and British Ambassador Peter Millett all backed the PC’s position – showing that they are not willing to alter the Libya Political Agreement (LPA) because of HoR intransigence. On 25 August, a joint statement was issued by the France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States backing the PC and reiterating their recognition of the GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya. The statement also repeated their rejection of any official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority but are outside the UN-facilitated LPA.
Throughout the week, Kobler conducted frantic shuttle diplomacy in order to make a last push for HoR members and regional states backing various factions to enable the vote. The UN also extended an official invitation for PM Fayez Serraj to represent Libya in the UN annual assembly gathering, which was filled by Ageelah Saleh last year. This demonstrates the UN’s resolve to deal only with the GNA.
The UN facilitated political dialogue committee has invited members for a new round of talks in Tunis from 4-6 September to find a way out of the current impasse but this is unlikely to be successful without a new committee voted on by the HoR.