Haftar-led troops repel assault but oil terminals closed
Militants attack Libyan National Army-held oil port
Clashes between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and a coalition of rival groups closed Libya’s largest oil depot and a neighbouring refinery.
At dawn the Islamist-leaning Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) assaulted Sidra oil port and Ras Lanuf terminal in the central coastal region, though they were later repulsed by the LNA.
The BDB were backed by infamous militia leader Ibrahim Jadhran whose fighters include remnants of his Petroleum Facilities Guards and sub-Saharan mercenaries. Jadhran gained notoriety from 2013-2016 when his forces, at the time numbering some 18,000, blockaded Sidra a move that oil officials said cost Libya $100 billion in lost revenues.
At least two storage tanks in Ras Lanuf burst into flames after they were hit by shelling during the attempt to seize the terminals from the LNA. In a video shared on social media Jadhran could be heard boasting of widespread tribal and mercenary support, and threatening further assaults.
Former British Ambassador to Libya Peter Millett commented, “Jadhran’s offensive in Oil Crescent serves no-one except his own selfish greed. Bad for Libya. Without sustained oil production…..rebuilding Libyan economy won’t be possible.”
In September 2016 Jadhran, who had attempted to sell oil to North Korea, was finally pushed out of Sidra and Ras Lanuf by the LNA. In March last year the BDB briefly recaptured the oil crescent region but a barrage of airstrikes and LNA Special Forces offensives succeeded in ousting Jadhran.
The assault comes only two days after the LNA carried out airstrikes on a convoy of alleged militants 60 km’s south of the central city of Sirte. LNA spokesman Maj-Gen Ahmed Mismari said the group included BDB fighters and mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. Two separate sources at hospitals in Misrata, some 250 km’s west of Sirte, said the charred remains of at least three people and a number of seriously wounded were brought to the city.
A plethora of fighters have profited from the security vacuum in Libya’s central desert regions, setting up training camps and launching sporadic attacks. Intelligence and military officials told The National this included the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
Oil production, Libya’s most vital asset, appeared to finally be recovering after years of pitiful production. While rival armed factions make consistency precarious, output has hovered around the 1 million barrels per day (bpd) mark for around a year.
Sidra is capable of shipping 447,000 bpd with Ras Lanuf having the capacity of refining 220,000 bpd.