Saturday, June 11, 2016

Libya has liberated the ISIS held city of Sirte.

Libyan soldiers fire on ISIS near Sirte. Reuters.

Libya's government has taken back the port city of Sirte from ISIS. Reuters. Libyan troops from Misrata advanced to the city center. The fighters are loyal to the UN backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA units swept around the city surrounding it and then moving in. The advance has been much swifter then anticipated but the troops have come under heavy sniper fire and had to deal with suicide bombers and mines. 100 GNA fighters have died since the offensive began in May. ISIS had controlled a large stretch of Libya's central coast but they have now lost territory as the GNA forces have started to target them. GNA allies have also targeted and pushed back ISIS in the east, near the town of Harawa.

Combat footage from Sirte. RT. 

My Comment:
This is yet another major defeat for ISIS. Sirte was one of their major cities that they had captured and now they seem to have lost it. Sirte was a port and a large source of income for ISIS. Losing it will hurt their ambitions in Syria and hurt them badly. If for no other reason they desperately needed to hold onto the area after losing so much territory in Syria and Iraq. Libya is their backup plan but it's a plan that won't work if they don't have anywhere to retreat too. It's not 100% clear if the city has been totally liberated but it does seem like their power base in Sirte is gone.

And Sirte isn't the only place they have lost. From the maps I have seen they have lost a lot of territory on the central coastline. They used to control a huge uninterrupted strip, which consisted of basically all of central Libya. That is no longer the case and they have been pushed to a small strip between Sirte and Harawa. This is a huge setback for ISIS and a welcome one as far as I am concerned. 

Of course the coast isn't the only place that ISIS had troops. They also have a large presence in northwestern Syria. These base are almost more dangerous then the ones near Sirte because they have used those bases to stage terror attacks across the border in Tunisia. Tunisia has stepped up security since those terror attacks and raids but the fact remains that the threat is there. Remember, last year there were three major terrorist attacks targeting the Tunisian government and various tourist enclaves, as well as some border skirmishes.

Liberating Sirte also might not help as much as one would hope. ISIS has been using the migrant crisis to infiltrate Europe and it's possible that they could have used Sirte as a route into Europe. I'm somewhat skeptical of that since who in their right mind would go to an ISIS controlled city to try and get into Europe? Especially if you are trying to go to Europe to get away from violence and destruction? My guess is that ISIS infiltration is happening from cities controlled by other groups. ISIS fighters can blend in with the migrants and get to Europe that way instead of the direct route.

Still, losing Sirte probably did disrupt some terrorist attacks just because ISIS will have to try and conserve their forces now. They will be looking to keep what territory they have and perhaps even attacking new areas. I am kind of surprised that they aren't attacking Libya's second government, the Council of Deputies. Their area of control is large but the only area ISIS really contests there is the notorious city of Benghazi. The Council of Deputies doesn't have Western backing so it might be weaker and thus a prime target for ISIS, if they can even get to that part of the country.

Speaking of Western involvement I wonder how much is going into this new GNA offensive? I didn't hear of any major airstrikes but I have heard that British and French special forces may be operating in the country. If they are, then ISIS would be their primary target. My guess is that they are mostly providing an advisory role and aren't actually involved in the combat.

Also, looking at the pictures and video from the scene it seems that the GNA is better equipped then ISIS. Unlike in Syria and Iraq, ISIS doesn't have the large cache of stolen US made weapons and vehicles. Having access to hundreds of US made Humvees and even some heavier vehicles was a critical factor in their success the last couple of years, but that is not the case in Libya. Instead they have whatever they could steal from the ruins of the former Libyan regime. Most of Qaddafi's equipment was outdated and it's unclear how much of them ISIS was able to get. The GNA by comparison has at least some tanks and other heavy vehicles, even if though they look much less well equipped then the troops in Syria and Iraq. 

As for ISIS itself, the terror group is having a rough time lately. My guess is they already reached their peak and will continue to lose territory. The question of whether or not Raqqa and Mosul will be liberated seems like a matter of "when" and not "if". Libya was one of the few bright spots left for ISIS, and if they continue to lose there then the group may be on the way out as a de-facto state. 

Of course the threat of terrorism from ISIS is still sky high. It's Ramadan right now and I am still worried that there will be an ISIS terror attack soon. There was a shooting in Israel but that just seems to be another incident in the cycle of revenge there. It's been very quite since the bombings in Belgium and I am worried something is coming... 

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