The ISIS campaign to advance from Sirte to the ports in the oil crescent region has entered full swing with the 4 January attack on Sidra terminal. The attackers used two suicide trucks (VBIED’s), one destroying the main checkpoint to the terminal and the other in the airfield strip.
The new ISIS offensive seems to be the beginning of a sustained campaign, likely focused on control of key facilities in Libya’s oil heartland. Sources report recent mobilizations of IS heavy artillery from Sirte to nearby Noufaliyah, Harawah and Bin Jawwad to reinforce the offensive. Photos of the operation published by the group show tanks and howitzers being used. The IS bombing of the telecommunications tower in Ajdabiya on 3 January, cutting all mobile and internet networks in the city, was most likely to prevent any possible retaliation of the Petroleum Facilities Guard.
The attack on 4 January was multi-pronged, targeting three locations simultaneously; Sidra port, Ras Lanuf, and the Harouge company tank farm (previously Veba) south of Sidra, setting one of the tanks on fire. ISIS released a video of the assault, and its media arm Amaaq published an article in the organisation’s weekly online paper, titled ‘Liberating Bin Jawwad, storming Sidra, and targeting Ras Lanuf’.
Although the attack was quickly repulsed by PFG forces and locals who mobilized to defend the ports, IS were pushed back to the outskirts of Bin Jawwad, 40 km east of Sidra. Clashes renewed on 5 January in Wadi Al Khila, south west of Sidra, hitting another Waha-owned tank in Sidra port, with random artillery and rocket fire into Ras Lanuf port residential complex.
Since the attack was launched, 7 soldiers of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) were killed and 25 injured, while the number of ISIS fighters killed seems to be much larger, as evident from photographs published by PFG social media. ISIS also published the photos of four suicide bombers amongst, all of whom were very young. It also appears that only one was Libyan.
There were also reports of airstrikes on ISIS positions in support of the PFG counteroffensive. Unconfirmed reports of jets scrambling from Misrata to aid the PFG were further confused by the GNC government in Tripoli issuing a statement claiming responsibility for the airstrikes. The spokesperson of the PFG stated that the origin of the airstrikes are still unidentified.
In Benghazi, ISIS groups in Lithi also managed to down an LNA Mig fighter jet. Although the pilot ejected and was taken safely back to his base, the incident demonstrates the growing capabilities of ISIS in Benghazi’s battlegrounds.