The Libyan National Army (LNA) has launched operations to clear the city of Derna from al-Qaeda-linked militias amidst reports of the LNA leader Khalifa Haftar being hospitalised.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) appears to be ready to push the al-Qaeda-linked militant group known as the Derna Shura Council out of the city of Derna. The LNA announced the launch of combat operations on the city after a siege that has lasted since 2016.
Derna has been one of the most turbulent cities in Libya in the aftermath of the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. ISIS established a presence in the city in 2014, around the same time they also established a presence in the cities in Sirte and Benghazi. The ISIS militants were subsequently expelled from Derna by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia, which then formed the Derna Shura Council alongside a number of other jihadist groups, taking over the city.
Since then, the situation has remained static. The LNA, which supports Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) Government, has placed the city under siege, communicating with the militants through local sheikhs and dignitaries in order to find a peaceful resolution. In the interim, the LNA focused efforts on fighting against the ISIS-affiliated militants in Benghazi as well as the forces loyal to the rival Government of National Accord (GNA) across the country.
With the ISIS and GNA fronts quiet and negotiations with the militants deadlocked, it would appear that the LNA has decided to end the militant presence once and for all. LNA forces attacked the positions of the militants around Hilla and Dhahr al-Hamr while shelling the militant positions around the coast.
LNA officials, meanwhile, have issued statements seeking to reassure the city’s population that the LNA is here to help the city and dispel rumours about LNA fighters committing revenge attacks. Officials called on the people of Derna to assist the LNA to expedite the militant defeat.
The launch of the LNA operations in Derna comes at a very sensitive time. Last week, the leader of the LNA, Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, was hospitalised after suffering a stroke. Then on Friday, rumours emerged that Haftar had died. Although these rumours were since discredited, the fact that Haftar has not made any public appearances has given a sense that his time as one of Libya’s most powerful military leaders is at an end. In launching operations in Derna, it is likely that the LNA leadership is looking to maintain unity by focusing on a mutual threat, as well as resolve any loose ends that could impact security in eastern Libya in the event of political instability.