Haf­tar forces re­pel at­tack but oil de­pot closes

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD - JAMIE PRENTIS

Clashes be­tween the Libyan Na­tional Army and ri­val groups on Thurs­day closed Libya’s largest oil de­pot and a neigh­bour­ing re­fin­ery.

At dawn, the ex­trem­ist-lean­ing Beng­hazi De­fence Brigades at­tacked Sidra oil port and Ras Lanuf ter­mi­nal in the cen­tral coastal re­gion, although they were later beaten back by the Na­tional Army, led by Field Mar­shal Khal­ifa Haf­tar.

The Brigades were backed by the mili­tia leader Ibrahim Jadhran, whose fight­ers in­clude rem­nants of his Petroleum Fa­cil­i­ties Guards and mer­ce­nar­ies from sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Mr Jadhran gained no­to­ri­ety be­tween 2013 and 2016 when his forces block­aded Sidra, which oil of­fi­cials said cost Libya US$100 bil­lion (Dh3.67bn) in lost rev­enue.

At least two stor­age tanks in Ras Lanuf were hit by shelling in the at­tempt to seize the ter­mi­nals from Field Mar­shal Haf­tar’s forces. In a video on so­cial me­dia, Mr Jadhran boasted of wide­spread tribal and mer­ce­nary sup­port and threat­ened fur­ther as­saults.

Pe­ter Mil­lett, a for­mer Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Libya, said: “Jadhran’s of­fen­sive in the 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, Mr Jadhran, who had tried to sell oil to North Korea, was pushed out of Sidra and Ras Lanuf by the Libyan Na­tional Army. In March last year, the Brigades briefly re­cap­tured the oil cres­cent re­gion but air strikes and LNA of­fen­sives suc­ceeded in oust­ing Mr Jadhran.

The at­tack came two days after the Na­tional Army car­ried out air strikes on mil­i­tants 60 kilo­me­tres south of Sirte. Maj Gen Ahmed Mis­mari, the LNA spokesman, said the group in­cluded Brigades fight­ers and mer­ce­nar­ies.

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 these in­cluded ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Oil pro­duc­tion, Libya’s most vi­tal as­set, ap­peared to be re­cov­er­ing. Out­put has hov­ered at about a mil­lion bar­rels per day for a year.

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