ISIS continues to fight for survival in Benghazi and Derna, while consolidating its forces in Sirte and Harwah. As talk of an international campaign to combat ISIS in Libya intensifies, along with the mobilization of Misratan forces, ISIS is preparing itself for a long battle.
A new offensive was launched jointly between Derna’s Mujahedeen Shura Council (MSCD) and Libyan National Army (LNA) units last week. The campaign targeted ISIS positions south of the city, in the hills of Al Fatieh and Al Heela area, and in coastal areas to the east. LNA airstrikes targeted ISIS positions in the 400 district on 15 and 16 February, reportedly killing one ISIS fighter and injuring three others, including ISIS commander Muftah Abu Farraj and a fighter named Rida Azzahaf. The MSCD shelled ISIS positions with heavy artillery, before using ground forces to sweep the area. Last week the MSCD worked to de-mine the area, where two MSCD members had been badly injured. Heavy shelling also took place in Al Fatieh area, where the LNA 102 Infantry Brigade is helping MSCD fighters rout ISIS militants.
ISIS released a statement on 16 February, claiming to have repelled the offensive, adding that it had killed three MSCD fighters, injured ten, and destroyed one MSCD tank. MSCD sources also reported killing five ISIS members in the clashes. ISIS reported that one of its fighters managed to infiltrate an MSCD camp in ‘Sheeha’ area, in the western Derna, successfully planting and denoting an explosive that killed three MSCD members.
ISIS managed to bring down another LNA Mig-23 jet and conduct random shelling of LNA positions from its bases in Soug El Hout and Sabri areas. In the terror group’s global magazine, Al Naba, issued 16 February, ISIS also claimed the killing three Sahawat fighters who supported the LNA during fighting in Al Lithi district of Benghazi.
In Sirte last week, ISIS reportedly declared a state of emergency, recalling forces from Bin Jawad, and vacating seaside homes it had occupied. Local sources report that ISIS is digging tunnels and trenches around the city to defend their positions, including a three-kilometer long, half-meter wide trench in the Dhaheer area in preparation for attacks. Meanwhile, on 15 February, an airstrike possibly launched from Misrata Airbase, struck the Sirte port.
The group has continued its barbaric methods of control, executing four young locals from Sirte for their role in the uprising last summer. ISIS refused to turn the bodies over to their families until three days of crucifixion had passed. The recently published list of around 130 convicts is growing, with public executions and punishments expected every Friday. ISIS published photos of various punishments meted out to ‘culprits’ including amputation of hands for theft.
In the town of Harwah, west of Sirte, gruesome pictures have emerged of ISIS beheading two men said to be from the Awlad Suliman tribe in Sabha. ISIS fighters also stormed the National Safety Authority (Civil Defense) headquarters in Harwah and seized two fire engines. Additionally, the group raided a number of homes belonging to ex-military & police officers who have not ‘repented’.