Conflict in Oil Crescent as BDB Seize Oil Ports and LNA Counter Attack Falters
On 3 March, the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) launched a multi-pronged attack on the oil crescent, advancing from their bases in Jufra towards Nawfaliya then east towards the oil crescent ports of Sidra and Ras Lanuf. Reporting on the developments in the oil crescent ever since has been patchy, with many contradictory reports and staged images emerging. It appears that the Libyan National Army (LNA), which has controlled the oil crescent ports since September last year, attempted to push back the BDB with airstrikes as it had done on the two previous occasions that attacks were launched from Jufra to the south-west. However, the airstrikes failed to halt the BDB advance, leading the LNA to withdraw its forces from Sidra and Ras Lanuf and the BDB to move in and push further east.
It remains unclear whether the BDB forces are actually inside the port facilities, however there does not appear to be any significant damage to the oil terminals. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) has reportedly withdrawn its personnel from Sidra and Ras Lanuf, but they have not declared Force Majeure. The NOC will be very reluctant to declare force majeure unless absolutely necessary because of the detrimental impact this will have on Libya’s oil exports. Already oil production has dropped as the situation in the oil crescent region remains volatile. The Government of National Accord (GNA) has condemned the attack, however the international community has so far been surprisingly quiet on the developments.
On the evening of 3 March, the NOC offices in Tripoli were briefly invaded by supporters of the BDB and Khalifa al-Ghwell’s National Salvation Government (NSG), who were also associated with the Ministry of Oil and Gas (MOOG). They used this brief occupation to broadcast a message from within the NOC’s building claiming that the NOC would support the BDB’s actions in the oil crescent. It is now being reported that the NOC is back in control of its premises. The NOC issued a statement condemning the aggression of the BDB/Khalifa al-Ghwell. The NOC reiterated its commitment to the UN Libya Political Agreement (LPA) process and its own political neutrality.
Over the weekend, the BDB has attempted to push further east towards Brega. On 4 March, the LNA regrouped in Ajdabiya to launch a counter-attack against the BDB, however this does not seem to have been successful. Even if Haftar’s forces are eventually able to retake the oil crescent facilities, the LNA’s failure to repel this attack represents a significant blow to Haftar’s image of political and military control in eastern Libya and is likely to undermine political negotiation efforts between the GNA and Haftar, particularly given accusations by the LNA that elements of the GNA and Misrata are supporting the BDB advance. Indeed, since the assault on the oil crescent began on Friday, the number of House of Representatives (HoR) members to reject their participation in an amended LPA process has doubled.