The sudden ISIS withdrawal from Derna on 20 April, and the lack of combat between ISIS convoys and LNA, has revived suspicions among Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) supporters that the LNA and ISIS are collaborating. Furthermore, the civilian casualties resulting from five consecutive days of LNA airstrikes against DMSC positions in Derna have enflamed the DMSC-LNA divide and undermined the Islamist-LNA alliance against ISIS.
Like the DMSC, the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) suspects collaboration between ISIS and the LNA. On 23 April, PFG commander Ibrahim Jadhran’s spokesman claimed that PFG forces clashed with ISIS after the LNA ‘allowed’ ISIS to traverse more than 800 kilometres of LNA-controlled territory uncontested. However, footage of a battle on 22 April between ISIS and LNA Brigade 152 southeast of Ajdabiya, discounts this claim.
The anniversary of Al Gardabiyah, the 1915 battle between the Libyans and Italians, is on 29 April. This date is reportedly the launch date of LNA ‘Operation Al Gardabiyah 2’ to liberate Sirte from ISIS. Over the past few weeks, the LNA has steadily increased its preparations for the operation and leaked photographs documenting their progress. The LNA has reportedly attempted to court many former Qadhafi’s security and intelligence officials to participate in the Sirte operation. These efforts include the reinstatement of many personnel to their previous positions, revocation of all sanctions and restrictions on their assets and property, as well as payment of due compensation. An estimated 3000-man force has been trained and equipped at a based in eastern Libya. A shipment of more than 600 armoured vehicles for the LNA arrived via Tubruq Port on 21 April to support the operation. On 26 April, the LNA began mobilising troops from Khaled Bin Walid and Jamal Abdul Nasser bases in Tubruq.
The LNA’s growing momentum, coupled with the increase in ISIS terror attacks in the south, has generated additional support for the ‘Al Gardabiyah 2’ operation. Forces from the Tebu, Tuareg and Magarha tribes under the command of Colonel Bin Nayel, a former Qadhafi military commander who was released by the Misratans last month, are reportedly preparing to join the operation. Bin Nayel visited General Khalifa Haftar on 24 April to report on the graduation of 800 new soldiers in Brak Al Shati, and to coordinate plans for the upcoming operation.
On 26 April, a Misrata Military Council convoy moved east toward Sirte to take up positions in Abu Grein and Zamzam crossing. Military sources confirmed that approximately 50 technicals arrived at this position, while another contingent continued south towards Jufra. Meanwhile, aircraft from Misrata Aviation Academy bombed an ISIS controlled-checkpoint 50 kilometres south of Sirte on 27 April. The airstrikes reportedly destroyed two vehicles and killed three ISIS members.