A militia the Associated Press identifies as a coalition of “Islamic militants and former rebels” has seized two major oil ports in Libya and threatened to take the nation’s second-largest city, Benghazi, out of the hands of the secular, internationally-recognized government’s allied military force.
The Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) captured the ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf last week, shutting down an operation that had finally begun to process 600,000 barrels of oil per day after the Libya National Army (LNA), run by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and affiliated with the country’s internationally-recognized legislature, liberated the area from rebel militias. Prior to the arrival of Haftar’s fighters, the ports were no longer processing any oil, a major blow to the national economy.
The internationally recognized governments — the executive Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the legislative House of Representatives in Tobruk — run the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC). In order for the NOC to function and, thus, restore the Libyan economy, the GNA and House of Representatives must control the nation’s industrial oil sites.
As the GNA opposes Hafter’s military authority, any NOC funds would go to strengthening the Tobruk faction of the government, not the officials in Tripoli. The United Nations recognizes both as legitimate governments — despite the fact that the House of Representatives has submitted a vote of “no confidence” against Tripoli — as opposed to militias like the BDB and terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Perhaps foreshadowing more discord between Tripoli and Tobruk, the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to remove itself from the UN peace deal that proclaimed both governments internationally recognized, demanding that Tripoli and all officially-recognized Libyan parties condemn the BDB’s takeover of its oil ports.
Following the seizure of the ports, BDB leader Col. Mustafa Alsharksi announced that he had organized 3,000 fighters to wrest Benghazi out of the hands of Haftar’s military. “Our main goal is to return our city. Our main goal is to reject and say no to oppression, say no to military rule (of Hifter),” he said at a press conference this week.
The BDB, AP reports, consists of “Islamic militants and former rebels” ousted from Benghazi following Haftar’s victory there in January.
Following their capture of the oil ports, the Libya Observer reported that the BDB seized the Ras Lanuf Airport and several towns, in a clear attempt to establish a zone of governance outside of the scope of the UN-recognized government. Following that capture, the group announced that they had named their new initiative “Return to Benghazi” and claimed that their goal was to seize that city, not necessarily incapacitate the nation’s oil industry. Doing so, however, would facilitate their invasion of the city.
“We will continue our march towards Benghazi after we hand over all oil ports to the NOC,” BDB commander Brig. Mustafa Al-Shirksi promised on Monday. Some villages invaded by the BDB appear not to believe that the fighters will leave, however. In the town of Ajdabiya, for example, officials called for civilians to arm themselves to the fullest extent possible in an attempt to thwart any BDB invasion.
“We declare the general mobilization of fighters in the city of Ajdabiya. All those who can bear arms and are capable of carrying them must be ready to help the army forces and the backup forces in their fight,” the town’s municipal office said in a statement Sunday.