The 48th Infantry Battalion of Sabratha

Since the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranea is decreasing, attention is focused on one of the many reasons helping for this to happen, the 48 Infantry Brigade.

At the end of last year, the Ministry of Defense of the Government National Accord, based in Tripoli decided to create units specialized in countering oil smuggling. End of January, the Ministry of Defense signed an agreement regarding the establishment of the 48th.

The battalion established its headquarters in the former Petroleum Facilities Guard, camp near Al Fanar forest in Sabratha. At the beginning, their missions were to protect the gas stations and play the role of police in the city. The 48th Infantry Battalion claims that it doesn’t belong to any political party or tribes, adding that their only goal is the security of Sabratha — a rhetoric used by many armed groups in Libya.

48th protecting a gas station in Sabratha

It has also escorted prisoners under the Office of the Attorney General’s authority, who arrived at Sabratha airport for the military court in May 2017.

48th on Sabratha’s airstrip

At the same time, the unit carried out checkpoints in Sabratha on the cars without a license plate, having tainted windows or in search of illegal weapons. Alongside other units, the 48th accomplished operations to seize oil trucks smuggling in and around Sabratha. Until mid-June, the anti-oil smuggling operations are the main activity of this battalion.

Oil trucks arrested by the 48th

On June 18, Hussein al-Thawadi (mayor) and the municipality of Sabratha issued a statement regarding the insecurity in the town. It followed the murders Haftar al-Dabbashi — an IS leader of kidnapping and his assassin Ali Belaid, who carried out the operation against Al Dabbashi (IS) as well as a series of crimes — kidnappings, robberies, oil smuggling and human smuggling.

On June 24, the 48th Infantry Battalion was assigned to carry operations against « illegal immigration », patrols on Sabratha’s coast, destructions of warehouses, arrestations…

However, the unit didn’t stop its actions against oil smuggling. It has been thanked by the « Fuel and Gas Crisis Committee » for its operations.

As requested by the Italian government, Sabratha Municipality participated in a meeting with the mayors of the cities touched by illegal immigration, Libyan Ministry of Interior, a representative of the Italian Ministry of Interior and the Italian ambassador. Hussein al-Thawadi presented what Sabratha needs, development projects; especially projects that directly affect young people, health and school infrastructures.

Hussein al-Thawadi during the meeting

Following the death of Sami Al-Gharabli — the head of Sabratha’s central security department — an agreement has been reached between the parties including the 48th Infantry Battalion after heavy clashes.

The municipality of Sabratha held a meeting with the 48th Infantry Battalion, Directorate of National Security (local police), officials and probably representants of Sabratha military council and officially decided to create the « Operation Room for fighting IS in Sabratha« , led by the Brigadier General Omar Abdul Jalil.

Omar Abdul Jalil during an interview

The Operation Room was deployed at the entrances of Sabratha following a local agreement signed between the parties, followed by clashes breaking out in the city between this coalition and local militias.

The 48th Infantry Battalion is assigned to secure the coastal road between the gate of Mellitah and the hospital street in Sabratha.

Furthermore, the official communication between Italy, Sabratha municipality, the 48th and the Operation Room for fighting IS never quoted Anas al-Dabbashi. It appears that the negotiations were held by Italian intelligence service. However, Al Dabbashi brigade has a contract since 2015 with ENI — which exploits it — to protect the vicinity of Mellitah and the site. The latter and the 48th work in the same area to protect oil factory, fight IS and illegal immigration.

Anas al-Dabbashi refuses the accusations made by UN of ties with human smuggling in the western coast. This unit escorted the humanitarian convoy, which landed in Mitiga airport to Sabratha hospital sent by Italy.

Anas al-Dabbashi members with humanitarian aid

Bashir Ibrahim, the spokesman for Anas al-Dabbashi said: « If the support to the brigade of al-Dabashi stops, it won’t have the capacity to continue to do this job and trafficking will be back ».

The reasons of the migrants’number dropping are multiple but fewer migrants on the sea, are more migrants in danger in Libya.

By Tom FNX.

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