In May of this year, the Islamic State’s Libya affiliate controlled a strip of coastal Libya that extended from Abu Ghrein in the west to Bin Jawwad in the east. Early 2016 had seen advances by the Islamic State that made Libyan and international authorities quite nervous. In the west, the Islamic State was harassing the outskirts of Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, and in in the east it was attacking major oil infrastructure, including the country’s two largest oil terminals, Ra’s Lanuf and Al-Sidr. These and other factors contributed to the launch of a multi-pronged offensive against Sirte, the epicenter of the Islamic State’s Libyan territory. The main assault is being conducted by mostly Misratan forces aligned with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), a United Nations-backed, would-be unity government. Those forces, coming from the west, reached Sirte in June. But since then, the GNA’s fighters have been engaged since then in a difficult battle against die-hard Islamic State fighters holed up in central Sirte, at sites such as the Ouagadougou Conference Hall (one of the Islamic State’s original bastions in the city). The battle for Sirte has importance not just for the campaign against the Islamic State, but also because the campaign itself is shaping Libyan politics and will help determine the fate and nature of the GNA.
For day-to-day coverage, I recommend following Daniele Ranieri, Mary Fitzgerald, Mattia Toaldo, Frederic Wehrey, Mohamed Eljarh, Francesca Mannochi and, for those who read Arabic, the official account of Operation Al-Bunyan al-Marsus (Operation Solid Structure), the GNA’s campaign.
Here are a few links that will take you deeper into both the campaign and the politics surrounding it.
On the Islamic State’s rise in Libya and in Sirte specifically:
- Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h, “Rising Out of Chaos: The Islamic State in Libya”
- Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Territorial Methodology” (.pdf, pp. 5-10)
- Wa’il ‘Isam (Arabic), “The ‘Islamic State’ Receives Support from Tribes That Used to Be Close to Qadhafi”
- Al-Wasat (Arabic), “ISIS…Way Stations to Sirte”
On the campaign (in roughly chronological order):
- Patrick Markey, “Libyan Forces Battle Islamic State Street-to-Street in Sirte”
- Frederic Wehrey: “Libyans Are Winning the Battle Against the Islamic State”
- Patrick Markey, “Sirte Battle Risks Widening Libya Political Splits”
- Amanda Kadlec, “All Eyes on Sirte: Beating the Islamic State, But Losing Libya”
- Libya’s Channel, “In Depth: Oil Guards Seize IS-Held Territory, Join Unity Government Coalition”
- AFP, “ISIS Tries to Break Siege in Libya’s Sirte”
- Missy Ryan, “In a Pivotal Battle, Libyan Forces Laying Siege to Islamic State in Sirte”
- Aidan Lewis, “Libyan Forces Report Gains Against IS in Battle for Sirte”
On what might come next:
- Mohamed Eljarh: “After ISIS Defeat in Sirte, Challenges Remain”
- Emily Estelle, “ISIS’s Courses of Action – Out of Sirte”
And finally, some sage notes of anti-alarmism from Geoff Porter, written before the current campaign began, about the barriers to expansion that the Islamic State faces in Libya.