ISIS and Oil — Targeting Infrastructure to Weaken the GNA
Teaming up with EyeonISISinLibya.com’s Lydia Sizer, we tackled the question of ISIS’s attacks on oil infrastructure in Foreign Affairs. ISIS in not yet on the retreat in Sirte and won’t be till a genuine coalition of the major non-jihadist militias in Libya confronts it. The West should try more serious incentivization to achieve that outcome. The idea of a naval blockade of Sirte could also be useful.
In fact, ISIS’ success depends on keeping Libya lawless, and one of its strategies to maintain the disorder is to block the unity government from generating revenue from its oil in the east. Libya relies on militias not accountable to the unity government to defend these sites, and ISIS can easily confront them to disrupt production at valuable installations in the oil crescent, such as its only operational port, the crucial Marsa Brega terminal.
Although ISIS has been weakened, even losing control of Ajdabiya in March 2016, it still poses a threat to eastern oil sites through its base in Sirte and the surrounding towns including Nawfaliyyah, Hawara, and Bin Jawwad. Over the past few months, according to locals in the area, the group has also been trying to secure transport routes from the south to help it bring in reinforcements from its other north African and sub-Saharan affiliates. Continued disunity among the local anti-ISIS groups will undoubtedly undermine any efforts to permanently push ISIS away from the major oil sites. The leaders of these groups are caught up in their own power struggle, which has even inadvertently aided ISIS’ goal of disrupting oil revenue. Forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter, a former Qaddafi official who later defected, have initiated an oil blockade at Marsa al-Hariga to prevent the unity government from benefiting from exports from the port. This partisan maneuvershows that even supposedly anti-jihadist actors such as Hifter are incapable of putting aside their petty differences to work together against ISIS.
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