- Libya Forces retake two towns near country’s biggest oil port
- Islamic State militants killed, detained during clashes
Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guard captured two towns near the country’s biggest oil port of Es Sider after clashing with Islamic State militants as the divided country struggles to reunite factions and revive oil production and the rest of the economy.
The force took control of Nofaliyeh, just one day after seizing the nearby town of Bin Jawad in central Libya, PFG spokesman Ali al-Hasy said by phone. Five petroleum guards were killed and 22 others wounded in clashes in both towns, he said. At least six Islamic State militants were killed and six others detained by the guards in Nofaliyeh, he said.
“Controlling Nofaliyeh is very important to secure nearby oil fields and ports,” al-Hasy said. Islamic State, which seized Nofaliyeh last year and Bin Jawad in January, established its Libyan headquarters in the central city of Sirte since 2014. Nofaliyeh and Bin Jawad are near the oil ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, which have been closed since December 2014 when armed groups attacked the terminals.
Libya, with Africa’s largest proven crude reserves, split into two separately governed regions in late 2014, one based in the western city of Tripoli and the other run by an internationally recognized government in the east. The political divisions were mirrored by rival National Oil Corp. administrations in the east and west of the country. Libyans are currently working to set up a Government of National Accord, with the support of the U.S. and European nations.
As the Petroleum Guard pushed from the east to seize the two towns, forces loyal to Libya’s U.N- backed unity government in Tripoli advanced on Sirte from the west, Abdul Azim Al-Shaqmani, spokesman for the military, said by telephone. Their objective is to “free Sirte” from Islamic State, he said.
Reasserting the authority of the Libyan government is key to defeating the Islamic state, though that will necessarily require military force, United Nations envoy to Libya Martin Kobler said at a briefing in Paris. Libya is making “important progress” in that its unity government has now secured control over the central bank and the national oil company, he said.
Libya pumped about 1.6 million barrels a day of crude before the 2011 rebellion that ended Moammar Al Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. It’s now the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, with an output of about 300,000 barrels a day. Since Qaddafi’s ouster, armed militias have also competed for control of the nation’s oil facilities.
Oil exports resumed earlier this month from the port of Hariga in eastern Libya, easing a bottleneck and allowing for crude production to increase after competing administrations of the state-run oil company NOC. reached an agreement in the divided country.