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Op-Ed: Islamic State fighters in Libya able to flee from Benghazi

Residents had been assured by authorities from Field Marshall Haftar’s Libyan National Army and Dignity Operation that the security situation in Benghazi was fully under control. However, his forces have often suffered from attacks. After more than two years of confllict Haftar has insisted that his enemies, the Islamic State and the Benghazi Shura Council are besieged and their complete defeat is imminent. However, the Libya Observer says: “But the escape of an ISIS convoy from Benghazi at the dawn of Thursday has raised several questions on how did they manage to leave the city into the desert without being thwarted despite the presence of several Dignity Operation checkpoints on the way.”

The Observer claims that some Dignity Operation media outlets are accusing the Saiga Forces Captain Mahmoud Al-Wirfally, who commands the western front line in Benghazi of coordinating their escape from the two areas. Saiqa has denied the allegation and has called for an investigation into the escape. General Mohammed Al-Manfood Commander of Air Operations said the escape of the IS convoy was a surprise to him saying: “Don’t ask me how did this convoy manage to escape from this siege? There must be strict procedures to identify the facilitators” He said the two areas were under tight siege and anyone trying to escape would be noticed. Colonel Salah Huwaydi confirmed the escape had taken place and that investigations were ongoing. Those who claim there is often coordination between Haftar and IS units see this as another instance where there has been cooperation. In 2015, Islamic militants were able to retreat from Derna and travel 400 kilometers east to Sirte allegedly without interception at Dignity Operation checkpoints although there are varying accounts of what happened.

News reports from Libya are often slanted or represent even false news designed to bolster the case for Haftar, the GNA, or other parties. The anti-Haftar Libya Observer reports that Mohammed Al-Ghasri spokesperson for the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos group who drove the IS from Sirte claims information showing coordination between Haftar and the terrorist forces allowing them to escape. Al-Ghasri said: “The Dignity Operation’s spokesman, Ahmed Al-Mismari has spoken with pride when he said that IS terrorists left Benghazi for Bani Walid and his statements are actually not so manly, as his words echo the fact that he was happy to send criminal forces, who explode themselves to kill Libyans, to Bani Walid city.” Al Ghasri said that his group would never allow IS terrorists to obtain a foothold in Bani Walid. Al Ghasri concluded: “Allowing IS militants to pull out from Benghazi is an attempt by Haftar to save his face on the military level as his forces couldn’t bring the battle to an end in a small area like Ganfouda after two years of fighting. Haftar wants to declare an illusionary victory on Benghazi.”

Security forces associated with Haftar were reported fighting terrorists that appear to be some of those who broke out yesterday, east of the town of Ajdabiya. The Libya Herald reports that 21 police and soldiers were killed during the breakout. The breakout is said to have happened during a power blackout that appeared to have been deliberately caused. A GECOL control room engineer was arrested.

Libyan National Army spokesperson, Ahmed Mismari, said that the main terrorist breakout was made by a column of vehicles that traveled south. In the running battle that followed in which aircraft and ground forces were involved all the terrorist trucks were destroyed the last of them just south of Ajdabiya. However, reports since then indicate two soldiers being killed and four wounded in the town of Saunnu east of Ajdabiya. There are conflicting details about two other breakouts. What exactly happened may be difficult to determine but certainly there was some significant breakout from the two areas by the remaining Islamic State fighters and perhaps some other radicals as well.

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