In the coming weeks, Libya’s oil crescent is likely to witness increased tension between three actors: the Libyan National Army (LNA), the Government of National Accord-aligned Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), and renegade Islamist militias. General Khalifa Haftar, whose LNA forces regained momentum throughout last week by making significant gains against ISIS and other jihadi militants in Benghazi, seems to be staying above the divide that still threatens to split the LNA. This divide is primarily drawn between the supporters of Haftar as supreme commander of the LNA, and Mahdi Al Barghathi, the GNA’s appointed minister of defense. However, the reversal of military momentum once more in favour of the LNA, coupled with the Islamist subversion of the GNA’s anti-ISIS, efforts is bolstering the political position of Haftar and anti-GNA factions.
After several Islamist militias broke away from the GNA’s Bunyan Marsus coalition and attacked Ajdabiya on 18 June, the GNA’s political position in the oil crescent was severely compromised, and with it the standing of PFG forces loyal to Ibrahim Jadhran. Meanwhile, Islamist militias were repelled by LNA units and local volunteers 60 kilometeres south of Ajdabiya, where they reportedly took control of nearby Amal field. The LNA was quick to use these incidents as a pretense to launch an airstrike on a PFG base west of Ajdabiya on 20 June. The LNA airstrike was quickly denounced by GNA Minister of Defense Mahdi Al Barghathi, who had tasked Jadhran with securing Ajdabiya and the oil crescent against the Islamist militias.
These developments have encouraged LNA supporters in the region to stand against Jadhran and the Islamist militias. Despite continued attempts by the GNA to regain control of the oil crescent via Jadhran, his influence is likely to shrink further. Jadhran’s brother, who is Mayor of Ajdabiya and a key political ally of the GNA, faced an open revolt from the rest of the municipal council on 26 June. The councilors called for his dismissal, while denouncing the GNA and pledging full support to the LNA. All of these incidents point to a growing momentum for LNA forces and local alliances in the oil crescent, at the expense of the GNA.
Meanwhile, the GNA is still holed up in Abu Setta naval base, while other militias affiliated to Islamist forces have a freer hand in the Tripoli. This has enabled Khalifa Al Ghwell to more effectively coordinate military and logistical support to Misratan anti-ISIS fighters, and Islamist forces going to fight the LNA in Ajdabiya and Benghazi. This support has also helped to further diminish the GNA’s own influence over the anti-ISIS operation in western Libya, and expose its shortcomings and failed promises of help to its fighters.