LNA air strikes on Derna after Hafter appoints new head of operations

By Libya Herald reporters.

Tunis, 17 January 2017:

After a lull of several months, aircraft belonging to the Libyan National Army (LNA) once again attacked Derna this evening. Several sites belonging to the powerful local Abu Sleem brigade are said to have been hit, mainly weapons depots. Casualties are unknown although the LNA claims to have killed two members of the brigade and wounded another.

The attack follows the appointment announced earlier in the day of Brigadier Salim Al-Rafadi as the new head of the Omar Mukhtar Operations Room. It is in charge of LNA moves to capture Derna from local Islamists.

Yesterday, in what may have been a related incident, at least one boat that was reportedly attempting to deliver supplies to Derna was hit outside the port by a navy craft manned by the LNA. Video footage has been published on social media showing a man firing a rocket-propelled grenade at another vessel although there is no independent confirmation that it is of the incident. There are some reports claiming that, in fact, four vessels were involved, that they came from Misrata, that two were hit and two escaped.

It is not known if Rafadi’s appointment and then today’s airstrikes were in response to the boat story or were planned in advance.

He is the fourth head of the operations room is just over a year. He replaces Brigadier Yousef Al-Mabrouk Al-Mansuri, appointed by Hafter in the last attempt to make the operations room more effective. That was just last August.

The Abu Sleem brigade is the main force in the strongly Islamist Derna Shura Council of Mujahideen (DSCM) which has held the town since it ejected forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in June 2015. Derna remains the last key centre in eastern Libya the LNA has been unable to take. This is despite last year’s deluge of air strikes (which the head of the UN special envoy Martin Kobler condemned as possible war crimes) and a blockade of the area.

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