Government forces announced on Thursday that Libya’s war-torn oil crescent was now “secure” following the withdrawal of forces loyal to Libya Dawn, a rival administration anchored in Tripoli.
Ali al-Hassi, spokesman of the army’s Red Valley Operations Room confirmed the movement of Libya Dawn troops but added that there had been no negotiations between the warring factions prior to their retreat.
Libya Dawn forces – fighting for control of Libya’s largest terminals Sidra and Ras Lanuf – unexpectedly withdrew to Hawara, an area just east of the central city of Sirte, leaving the terminals under the control of pro-government forces.
The primarily Misratan fighters had began laying siege to the two oil ports mid December 2014 in a Tripoli-backed campaign dubbed “Operation Sunrise”.
In response the Libyan Army formed the Ajdabiya-based RVOR to coordinate different forces loyal to the army and the House of Representatives, the Tobruk based internationally-recognized parliament.
Due to the heavy fighting between the warring factions, the National Oil Company, a state body tasked with managing oil sales, placed both ports under force majeure.
Army spokesman al-Hassi praised the role of allied forces in the area, namely the Petroleum Facilities Guard’s central region unit, Tank Brigade 204, River Brigade and the Libyan air force in reestablishing control of the oil crescent. He also thanked local residents for protecting their area.
The head of the Bin Jawad elders council meanwhile told Libya Channel that following negotiations with elders from the area, Operation Sunrise commanders had agreed to briefly open the coastal road to allow for displaced people to return to Bin Jawad. Over the past three months, many had fled due to the heavy fighting on the Sidra frontline.
The UN mission to Libya UNSMIL welcomed the withdrawal, which it said came after “weeks of mediation efforts by UNSMIL between the Sunrise Operation and the Oil Installation Guard forces”. On its part, the HoR celebrated the departure of “militias aiming to destroy oil facilities” as a victory for the Army.
The motives for the withdrawal remain unclear.
A likely possibility is that rival commanders on the ground secretly agreed to disengage from the frontline in order to be able to jointly face the Islamic State group, which controls parts of Sirte and threatens both of Libya’s rival administrations.
General National Congress member Belgasem Dibriz spoke of a “tactical move” to free capacity for the battle against IS in coordinated with the Tripoli-based Chief of Staff.
While the RVOR and the PFG Central Region denied any prior deal with Libya Dawn, Ajdabiya military commander Bashir Buzafira and Operation Sunrise spokesman Ismail al-Shukri on the other hand conceded that the withdrawal was the result of talks facilitated by the UN.