On 14 March, Libyan National Army (LNA) forces launched a counter attack against the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) from Brega. By the afternoon of 14 March, LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari claimed that the routed BDB forces had retreated to Misrata and Jufra, and that some had been captured. At least 21 LNA fighters were reportedly killed in the offensive. This figure is in addition to the 38 LNA fighters the LNA says have been killed since the BDB offensive started in the Oil Crescent on 3 March. The BDB has not released its casualty figures for this latest battle. The LNA claims to be back in control of Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil ports following intense fighting with the BDB. Photos have emerged of LNA fighters at these ports that seem to confirm this.
The LNA attack followed a large deployment of LNA forces, reportedly comprising over 3,000 armed vehicles, being mobilised in and around Brega, Agilah and Bishr. The LNA also conducted airstrikes daily throughout last week against BDB targets near these ports and in neighbouring towns of Bin Jawwad and Nawfaliyah. On 12 March, five BDB fighters (3 from Benghazi and 2 from Gharyan) were killed in LNA airstrikes against BDB positions in Sidra and Ras Lanuf.
On 7 March, the BDB announced the formal handover of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil ports to Idris Bukhamada, the chief of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) appointed by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). On 12 March, Bukhamada requested an internationally-imposed No-Fly Zone to prevent LNA airstrikes. The same day, the BDB said its political goal is to protect the right of return for families and former revolutionaries displaced from Benghazi by Khalifa Haftar, while also vowing to fight terrorism and protect Libya’s neighbours.
Both GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and his Minister of Defense Mahdi al-Barghathi have previously denounced the BDB as a terrorist group. However, they now appear at least tacitly supportive of the group given their PFG affiliated accepted control of the oil ports from the BDB. From the LNA’s perspective, the BDB is seen as an extension of the extremist jihadists fighting against the LNA in Benghazi and Derna, in alliance with Islamic State (ISIS) and Ansar al-Sharia. The LNA has accused many tribal and social forces who switched allegiance from the LNA to the BDB of being as traitors.
On 11 March, local sources reported that two LNA fighters were beheaded by the BDB in Ras Lanuf. The LNA Sirte operations room has eulogized the two fighters. UK ambassador to Libya Peter Millet condemned the killings. Local sources report that Younes al-Faidi, who was formerly aligned with Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, is now a commander in the Benghazi Defense Brigades.