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Whether Extremism in E. Libya Will End After Derna Capture Or Not?

Haftar's army could wrench Derna from a coalition of local and Islamist fighters

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A view of destroyed buildings and cars after the street was controlled by forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Derna, Libya, June 13, 2018.
A view of destroyed buildings and cars after the street was controlled by forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Derna, Libya, June 13, 2018. VOA

Forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) are poised to capture the last remaining city outside of their control in eastern Libya, after weeks of heavy fighting, bombardment and airstrikes, and after years of siege.

Haftar’s army could wrench Derna from a coalition of local and Islamist fighters known as the Derna Protection Force, formerly known as the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council.

“What remains outside the control of our forces is considered a small combat zone, less than just 10 kilometers squared,” LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told Reuters earlier this week. “The operations are in their final stages and the fighting is very heavy.”

Last month, Haftar’s forces renewed their offensive “to liberate Derna from terrorists.” Few experts, however, believe the city’s capture will be the end for jihadists in Libya.

Libya, Map
Libya, Map, Pixabay

“The fight against extremism is only going to be symbolically won by any LNA [Libyan national Army] takeover of Derna, or any other city for that matter,” said Darine El Hage, regional program officer at U.S. Institute of Peace’s Center for Middle East and Africa.

“Indeed, evidence has shown that grievances stemming from heavy-handed military and security measures might make people more susceptible to joining extremist groups,” she told VOA.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies based in Washington, said “if the LNA captures Derna and expels jihadists from the city, they will not be finished in Libya.”

“Jihadists already have a presence in the south of the country, among other areas,” he added.

 An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya Oct. 3, 2014.
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna’s Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya Oct. 3, 2014. VOA

‘Escalating humanitarian crisis’

This week, both the United Nations and the human rights group Amnesty International sounded the alarm over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Derna.

“From the people we have spoken to inside Derna, they have explained that the situation is quite dire,” said Marwa Mohammed, Libya researcher with Amnesty International, in an interview with VOA.

“They’ve had very, very limited supplies that had gotten in, and that includes foodstuffs, medical supplies, fuel, cooking gas,” she said.

Amnesty International had earlier in the week issued a statement on the fighting in Derna, in which the human rights watchdog said unnecessary hardships are being inflicted on ordinary men, women and children by the use of “blockade tactics.”

According to Mohammed, people are afraid to flee Derna “because we do know there are people who are being arbitrarily detained, based on their profile” of being male and from Derna. After that, she said they disappear.

“What we are calling for is the protection of civilians, giving them free access to flee without been profiled,” said Mohammed.

‘Permissive environment’

With the Libyan National Army getting set to declare victory in Derna, many observers are pondering whether Haftar is considering something other than his stated goal of freeing Derna from the clutches of terrorists.

Khalifa Haftar (C), the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, leaves after an international conference on Libya in Paris, France, May 29, 2018.
Khalifa Haftar (C), the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, leaves after an international conference on Libya in Paris, France, May 29, 2018. VOA

“It is difficult to identify one single reason behind the timing of the battle,” said El Hage of USIP’s Center for Middle East and Africa.

“The underlying root causes that allow for radicalization in or outside of Derna, are not won by military victories, at least not for the long term,” she said.

Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the best-case scenario, from a humanitarian and strategic point of view, is for the fighting in Derna to end quickly. If it gets drawn out, he said jihadists will be able to regroup and build their networks.

Also read: Sudanese Children of Islamic State (ISIS) Militants Released in Libya

“Libya will remain a permissive environment until a political entity emerges with the will and capability to deny jihadists the ability to operate,” he said.

Next Story

Libya’s Commander Khalifa Haftar Urges Troops to Battle Harder During Ramadan

His comments came just hours after the United Nations called for a week-long humanitarian truce following a month of fighting for the capital that has displaced 50,000 people

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fight during ramadan, libya's haftar
Smoke rises during a fight between members of the Libyan internationally recognized government forces and Eastern forces in Ain Zara, Tripoli, Libya, May 5, 2019. VOA

Eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Haftar urged his troops trying to take Tripoli to battle harder and teach their enemies a lesson, because the holy Muslim month of Ramadan that begins in Libya on Monday was a month of holy war.

His comments came just hours after the United Nations called for a week-long humanitarian truce following a month of fighting for the capital that has displaced 50,000 people. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force, which is allied to a parallel government in the east, has not been able to breach the southern defenses of the Tripoli, which is held by the internationally recognized government.

On an audiotape released by his force’s spokesman, Haftar said Ramadan had not been a reason to halt previous battles when he seized the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna as he expanded his power and the country collapsed into chaos after the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

libya's haftar, fight during ramadan
Artillery shelling could be heard on Sunday coming from southern outskirts of the capital, where the LNA has been tying to breach defenses by Tripoli forces. VOA

“Officers and soldiers in our armed forces and the auxiliary forces, I salute you in this glorious days and urge you with your strength and determination to teach the enemy a greater and bigger lesson than the previous ones, as we’ve always known you to do, till we uproot it from our beloved land,” Haftar said.

In a statement earlier, the U.N. Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) appealed for a truce starting on Monday morning at 0400 local time to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan. “UNSMIL calls on all parties to deliver of humanitarian aid to those in need and to ensure the freedom of movement for civilians during this truce,” UNSMIL said in a statement.

ALSO READ: Fasting During Ramadan is ‘Challenging’ in Non-Muslim Countries

Artillery shelling could be heard on Sunday coming from southern outskirts of the capital, where the LNA has been tying to breach defenses by Tripoli forces. The LNA of Haftar – a former Gadhafi general – seized the sparsely populated but oil-rich south of the country earlier this year before turning on Tripoli last month.

The renewed conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe and scupper U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in east and west. (VOA)