Libya: The Battle of Sirte

12 June 2020 — South Front

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and Syrian militant groups with a direct support from Turkey are preparing for a new attempt to capture the port city of Sirte from the Libyan National Army (LNA).

After the first failed attempt earlier this month, Turkish-backed factions have deployed additional reinforcements to the frontline west of the city. This included artillery pieces, battle tanks and a large number of pickups equipped with weapons. LNA warplanes conducted several strikes on GNA military columns moving from Misrata in the area of Abu Qurayn. However, the existing LNA air power appeared to be not enough to stop the military buildup of Turkish-led forces. The intensity of LNA airstrikes also decreased, especially in the countryside of Tripoli, due to the Turkish efforts to set up an air defense network in the GNA-held part of coastline.

Over the past year, the Turkish military has sent a number of KORKUT self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and MIM-23 Hawk medium-range air defense systems to Libya. These systems as well as electronic warfare capabilities of the deployed Turkish military contingent played an important role in breaking of the LNA siege of Tripoli and allowed Turkish combat drones operate relatively freely in its countryside. Now, Turkey is likely seeking to employ a similar approach to besiege and seize Sirte.

The city, with the estimated population of about 128,000, is an important logistical hub and Libya’s main oil export port. In the beginning of January, the LNA led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar shut down export terminals and stopped operations of pipelines from El-Sharara and El-Feel oilfields cutting off the exports of the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation by about 92%. Then, the LNA said that the GNA used the revenues obtained thanks to oil export to pay for Turkish weapons and Turkey-deployed mercenaries. This move demonstrated the determination of the LNA and the democratically-elected House of Representatives based in Tobruk to push forward their project of the united Libya regardless possible decrease of financial revenues from oil business.

Now, Ankara and its partners in Tripoli are eager to capture Sirte and restart a full-scale oil export under their direct control. If Turkish-led forces achieve this goal, Ankara will get an access to an additional source of revenue to compensate, at least partly, its expenditures for the Libyan intervention.

For the LNA leadership, the possible withdrawal from Sirte will mark the full collapse of its plan to unite Libya under a single administration. So, Haftar forces are also preparing for the battle.

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