Haftar forces repel attack but oil depot closes
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.