After the Battle for Sirte

Our blogs for the previous two weeks were concerned with the ongoing offensives aimed at the ISIS strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, which have attracted much media attention due to their scale and the complex alliances involved. These are major conflict situations, which will continue to evolve and produce consequences over coming months and years. This week, we look at the outcome of the defeat of ISIS in their stronghold of Sirte in Libya.

Sirte has a unique place in the recent history of Libya, as a battle for the city led to the capture and killing of Muammar Gaddafi and the end of the armed uprising that took place in 2011. This began with protests in Benghazi, which were violently put down, and spread across Libyan cities, resulting in a major armed conflict between loyalists and rebels. Fears of major human rights violations as government forces approached the rebel stronghold of Benghazi resulted in the imposition of a no-fly zone by the UN, enforced by NATO, and an eventual rebel victory. Political division in Libya led to the outbreak of a civil war in 2014, and this has evolved into a conflict between four major alliances. Libya’s transition from authoritarian state to a failed state makes the country a casualty of the Arab Spring, a major regional change with varied results, and has brought into question the merits of armed intervention and post-conflict planning. ISIS has attempted to establish provinces within Libya, including that at Sirte, where Salafist Islamic militants controlling the city declared allegiance to ISIS in October 2014 after the despatch of an ISIS delegation.

A major offensive to capture Sirte was launched by the Government of National Accord (GNA) on the 12th May 2016, backed by US airpower and US and UK Special Forces. The battle for the city itself ended on the 6th December but fighting continues in the surrounding area. The consequences for the civilian population have been severe: the city has been mostly destroyed, as it has been the location of major battles in 2011 and 2016, and since June 2015 some 19,000 families fled Sirte and are scattered across Libya. For returning citizens, there is the threat of unexploded munitions and a crippled infrastructure. Nor has the risk of violence gone: ISIS has been forced from the city, but a security presence and working government is required to provide stability to prevent its return and the risk of sleeper cells emerging is a real one. Moreover, the civil war is far from over, and the area around Sirte is a major oil producing region, making it a valuable asset. The redevelopment of the city depends upon security and stability as reconstruction efforts after the 2011 battle were undone by the more destructive 2016 battle.

For more on the outcome of the battle for Sirte:

Dr Carl Turner,

Site Coordinator

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