The political damage to the Government of National Accord (GNA), following the attack on Ajdabiya on 18 June by Islamist militias, may undo fragile militia alliances in Tripoli and key towns in western Libya. Meanwhile, an escalation of open conflict between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and Islamist militias from western Libya is now very likely, and could potentially spill over into a broader tribal/regional conflict involving the LNA and the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG).
The connection between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and its ‘affiliated’ anti-ISIS fighters has significantly unraveled after Islamist militias broke away from Bunyan Marsus. With the blessing of Sadeq Al Ghariyani, still seen by many as the legitimate Grand Mufti of Libya, the recently formed Benghazi Defense Brigade and Ajdabiya Liberation Operations Room attacked LNA units in Ajdabiya on 18 June. On 19 June, Ghariyani lashed out at the GNA’s Presidential Council statement, which condemned the attack, saying the GNA, Khalifa Haftar and Muamar Qadhafi are one and the same. Ghariyani’s response marks a significant escalation in rhetoric. Although events so far in 2016 have indicated a steady weakening of support for Islamist hardliners such as Ghariyani in western Libya, the breakdown of the GNA’s coalition following the Ajdabiya attack may once bring hardliners to the fore, undercutting attempts by ‘moderate’ factions to shore up the GNA, or conduct a sustained campaign against ISIS in Sirte. Further, the GNA’s inability to effectively support Bunyan Marsus fighters with critical medical and logistical support needed for the operation, has greatly damaged its credibility. Additionally, the GNA’s failure to secure such support from the West has led to resentment and ‘defections’ by former supporters.
Tensions between the LNA and PFG units loyal to Ibrahim Jadhran have also spiked, due to the ambivalence of the PFG towards the attack on the LNA in Ajdabiya. The Islamist militias retook the main Man-Made River station and sections of the industrial area in southern Ajdabiya on 18 June, before being repelled by the LNA and local volunteers, supported by LNA airstrikes. On 19 June, the GNA and its minister of defense, who was visiting Ras Lanuf and areas west of Sidra in the company of Ibrahim Jadhran on 17 June, issued scathing condemnations of the attack. However, backpedaling by certain members of the GNA, in addition to the PFG’s seeming indifference to the Ajdabiya attack, have only added to the perception in eastern Libya that the two groups are aligned with Islamist militias from the west.