ISIS Overwhelms Local Rebellion, Retakes Key Neighborhood in Sirte
Bottom Line Up Front: ISIS fighters launched a counteroffensive on 13 August to retake control of the Raqm Thalatha (“No. 3”) neighborhood of Sirte, sweeping through the neighborhood and clashing with members of the al-Farjani tribe. ISIS allegedly took back full control of the neighborhood, killing an unconfirmed number of tribal fighters and civilians and reportedly burning the Gamal Abdul Nasser clinic where the wounded fighters were being treated. This offensive has effectively quashed the local uprising, but may lead to intervention by Libya Dawn and/or Libyan National Army (LNA) forces.
After losing the Raqm Thalatha neighborhood and several surrounding areas in downtown Sirte to a local uprising on 11 August, ISIS forces counterattacked on 13 August, launching a multiple front assault against the rebel district. ISIS fighters, reinforced by convoys from Harawa and Noufiliya, attacked Raqm Thalatha from the south and east. Rebel fighters of the al-Farjani tribe, including Salafists of the newly formed Shabab al-Tawhid wa al-Aqida group and members of the former LNA 136 “Jalit” Battalion engaged in heavy clashes with ISIS near the Administrative complex at the fork in al-Mudar Street and in Tawiyla area, south of Raqm Thalatha. After retaking the Sirte Commercial Port from the Salafist rebels, ISIS forces advanced through the Qusour al-Diyafaa Hotel complex along the coast, clashing with the local forces. Allegedly, two ISIS leaders, a Saudi named Abu Hazaifa al-Ansari, and an Egyptian named Abu Hammam al-Masri, were killed in the clashes, as well as Battalion 136 commander Ali Sadiq al-Farjani and his two sons, who died fighting ISIS in Raqm Thalatha. Before storming the neighborhood, ISIS besieged the area, cut internet and power to the district, and initiated heavy artillery shelling.
By the night of 13 August, ISIS forces, backed by technicals and other armed vehicles, had cleared the vast majority of the neighborhood, with over twenty al-Farjani rebels killed in clashes and even more civilians killed, with estimates of total casualties exceeding one hundred killed. ISIS also torched the district field hospital and the religious library of the Qartaba Mosque, where the rebellion began, as claims indicate that residents fled the area. ISIS further cordoned off the neighborhood from the adjacent Raqm Wahed (“No. 1”) and Raqm Ithnan (“No. 2”) districts, arresting any rebels attempting to escape. Unconfirmed rumors point to ISIS fighters executing a number of locals for taking part in the uprising.
In response to the rapid deterioration of the uprising in Sirte, Misratan and Zintan elders and military representatives met to discuss a joint operation against ISIS to assist in the liberation of the city from the group. By the evening of 13 August, approximately the same time as ISIS forces completed their sweep of the rebelling district, these former adversaries allegedly reached an agreement for Misratan militias, the pro-LNA Warshevanna forces, Amazigh fighters, and Tripoli groups to launch a joint operation to retake Sirte. The General Staff of the Libyan Army, which reports to the Tripoli-based government announced that its forces would initiate an operation to retake Sirte. Following that announcement, Libya Dawn aircraft targeted the “50 Gate” and Zahir areas west of Sirte. Unconfirmed reports claimed Misrata-based Battalion 166 advanced in the vicinity of the 50 Gate area, as Libya Dawn aircraft conducted airstrikes on ISIS positions there, approximately fifty kilometers west of the city.
The rapid rise and fall of the al-Farjani tribe’s anti-ISIS uprising will likely induce a heavy-handed crackdown by ISIS forces in Sirte, in order to regain control of the situation and dissuade others from similar resistance. Likely causes for the ultimate failure of the uprising include lack of weaponry and external support, beyond Libyan National Army Air Force (LyAF) airstrikes. The rebellion has, however, galvanized support in both the Operation Dignity and Libya Dawn camps, as evidenced by the calls by leaders in the west of the country for a joint force to retake the city. It remains to be seen, however, whether any such operation will actually take place. The al-Farjani tribe’s stand serves as a reminder that ISIS’ support from subjugated populations, even in its Libya stronghold, is tenuous, but its military capacity is capable of crushing those who rise against it.
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