LNA bolsters security in Oil Crescent with forces pushing closer to Sirte
On 14 May, the minister of interior of the eastern parallel government released a statement detailing the expansion of the operational area of its “Security Plan No. 01” into the desert region south of Ajdabiya through to eastern Sirte. The expansion is intended to confront any efforts to destabilise the region and support the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces already located there. On 13 and 15 May, the LNA conducted a series of operations from Ajdabiya to Bin Jawad (east of Sirte), with the assistance of a police helicopter. Last week, LNA forces operating under the LNA Gulf Operations Room were observed mobilising near Sirte, with air support from Jufra. The involvement of the parallel MoI is unlikely to make a significant difference to stability in the Oil Crescent, though may provide an additional defensive capacity at a local level. The MoI’s security plan is predominantly a tool to shore up the LNA’s narrative of ‘liberation,’ allowing the LNA to claim it is providing governance and security to the areas it controls.
Most of the nominally Government of National Accord (GNA)-aligned Sirte Protection Force (SPF) and other armed groups in Sirte are from Misrata. Misrata deployed several powerful militias to support counter LNA operations in Tripoli and has launched several airstrikes against LNA supply lines in the Jufra region. As a result, tensions between these groups around Sirte, where their areas of influence converge, are high. While the LNA has several units based east of Sirte, it is unlikely to have the capacity to actively open a second front near Sirte while it continues fighting around Tripoli. These operations are likely aimed at securing supply lines (connecting Ras Lanuf to al-Shuwayrif and Bani Walid) and ensuring its positions are well defended against any potential assault, rather than seizing control of Sirte. Renewed focus on the Oil Crescent is indicative of the LNA increasing its overall presence in the Oil Crescent and slowly bolstering the number of troops east of Sirte – potentially as a defensive measure against any retaliatory incursion by GNA-aligned forces or insurgents/spoiler actors such as ISIS or Ibrahim Jadhran who may seek to take advantage of the growing security vacuum as the LNA continues to focus on Tripoli.