By Saber Ayyub.
Tripoli, 5 May 2016:
Central region Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) head Ibrahim Jadhran has agreed to support the Libya National . . .[restrict]Army (LNA) operation to liberate Sirte from the so-called Islamic State (IS), the Libya Herald was told this evening by one of his officials. The decision follows negotiations in Ras Lanuf with Saiqa Special Forces commander Wanis Bukhamada.
Bukhamada and Saiqa arrived earlier in the day in the oil terminal town, 60 kilometres east of Ben Jawad, itself the eastern front line for IS forces based in Sirte.
A number of LNA aircraft are also now said to be based at Ras Lanuf airport ahead of the offensive.
Under the agreement between Jadhran and Bukhamada, the PFG would be put at the LNA’s disposal, the official said.
As part of a two-pronged operation to move on Sirte from both the east and the south, LNA forces are also now in Zillah and Marada, some 140 kilometres south of Ras Lanuf. However, it is separately reported that the prime objective there is to secure the oilfields.
Jadhran has previously been a bitter opponent of General Khalifa Hafter, the head of the LNA, and there had been fears of clashes between the PFG and the LNA as the latter moved towards Sirte.
It is reported that Bukhamada, who is highly regarded throughout the east of the country, was sent to Jadhran specifically to prevent such an outcome.
Bukhamada earlier had talks with Salah Al-Ataiwish, the head of the Magharba tribe of which Jadhran is himself a member. Ataiwish had already come out in favour of the LNA offensive to liberate Sirte, saying it had to be supported. In today’s talks, he reportedly confirmed that position and, in doing so, added to the pressure on Jadhran to come to terms with the LNA.
Underpinning the new position, a Magharba delegation in Benghazi separately had talks today with boycotting Presidency Council member Ali Gatrani in which they also affirmed their support for the LNA.
It is not clear if Jadhran, who was slightly injured in fighting IS last month near Brega, has been reinstated as head of the central region PFG. A supporter of the Libyan Political Agreement and the Presidency Council led by Faiez Serraj, he was recently sacked by both the Thinni government and then by the Hafter, although he and the PFG ignored this.
Today’s development will come as something of a blow to the Presidency Council which last week ordered all military forces to hold back on attacking Sirte pending the appointment of a new commander of all Libya’s armed forces. Misratan forces, which were reported to be planning a separate effort to liberate Sirte said they would abide by the order. [/restrict]