Forces build up and posturing continues on Sirte frontlines
Throughout the week there has been a continuous build-up of additional forces on both the Government of National Accord (GNA) coalition and the Libyan National Army (LNA) coalition. GNA forces are reportedly amassing at Tawergha, south of Misrata, with some frontline forces allegedly having been pulled back from the frontlines to the town as the forces are rearranged. On 17 July, a Turkish Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft landed directly at al-Watiya Airbase from Turkey. This is the second documented Turkish military aircraft landing directly at the airbase. Tawergha is a town south of Misrata where the entire 30,000 strong population (predominantly black Libyans) was forcibly evicted by Misratan armed groups due to their alleged involvement in the siege of Misrata in 2011. Tawerghans have not been allowed to return since then, and the town is largely abandoned.
The LNA positions have remained the same since early June and lie approximately 30-50 km east of al-Wishka. There are unverified claims that Russian mercenary forces have withdrawn from their main positions in Sirte, but it is unclear if there has been a withdrawal from Sirte totally or just away from the western ‘frontlines’. Residents of Sirte are becoming increasingly concerned about their safety as the military standoff continues. There is notable concern that should the GNA launch an assault, local civilians will be vulnerable to overspill from the fighting. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult for civilians to depart. As previously assessed, both sides are building up their forces in Sirte, but clashes have not escalated. It seems that both sides are waiting for high-level international discussions to play out before making a move. Given the extreme volatility and the build-up of forces, the threat of intense clashes erupting in Sirte in the next few days to week is high.