The Libyan National Army expels the last ISIS pocket in Benghazi

ISIS’ presence in Benghazi has been eliminated following the end of clashes between the group’s militants and the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is led by the Libyan General Khalifa Haftar.

On Friday, soldiers belonging to the LNA defeated ISIS militants near the eastern area of Akhribish. 12 militants and one soldier were killed, while dozens more were injured.

The LNA has besieged ISIS in Akhribish since last July and it has proceeded cautiously, with support from airstrikes, to oust the militants in order to avoid the mines planted by the group.

Haftar had initially declared victory in Benghazi in July against a coalition of jihadist groups that included ISIS, the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and Ansar al-Sharia, whose Algerian affiliate across the border has also been targeted by Algerian security forces in recent months.

But following the declaration of victory in July, many jihadists fled and scattered, and clashes have continued to take place in Akhribish ever since.

Benghazi has witnessed high levels of instability since 2011, with assassinations, skirmishes, car bombs, and high levels of crime all prominent features of life. But despite this, life has returned to parts of Benghazi and civil society has made a resurgence, allowing Haftar to consolidate his rule in the east of the city.

The operations to capture Benghazi were launched by Haftar in May 2014. Within one year, the east of the city was taken. But the entry of ISIS in 2015 complicated matters.

Haftar’s initial aim to expel Islamist militias from the city had alienated many moderate groups, pushing them into the hands of the more hardline groups. While Haftar received support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both of whom fearing the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, the Islamist ranks swelled with fighters from Tunisia, Egypt, and other foreign fighters from the region.

Despite estimating a swift victory in Benghazi, the fighting had stalled by the end of 2015 before it reignited again through 2016 and into 2017. With the city now stabilised and fully under the LNA’s control, this undoubtedly represents a huge coup for Haftar, who has made no secret of his desire to move west towards the capital Tripoli.

In October, the LNA took the town of Zawiya, located on the coast just 40km west of Tripoli, increasing Haftar’s hold on the majority of the country. This includes oil facilities in the central Sirte area, airfields across the country, while simultaneously lobbying for international support.

As for ISIS, their presence in Libya has completely diminished since 2015, when the group witnessed their territorial zenith in the region, not only in Libya, but across Iraq and Syria. Now, however, the group’s territorial holdings have declined considerably, although many onlookers are still wary of the insurgency threat the group may pose, particularly in the coastline around Sirte.