Fighting between jihadists, Haftar’s forces escalates in Benghazi

Footage purportedly shot inside the February 17th Martyrs Brigade base in Benghazi

In the last week, Benghazi has seen a sharp increase in violence after the former Libyan general, Khalifa Haftar, began a renewed offensive with the Libyan army against jihadists in the city.

The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, the largest alliance of jihadist groups, met the offensive with harsh resistance. According to Reuters, 130 people have been killed in the last 10 days.

Al Arabiya reports that the fighting is now mainly taking place in the Ras Obeida district of Benghazi. Haftar’s forces took the February 17th Martyrs Brigade base and pushed back jihadists near the Benina International Airport on Oct. 25.

However, several videos and photos have been released purportedly showing fighters from Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-affiliated group in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, inside the February 17th Martyrs Brigade base.

In some pictures, fighters are shown at the entrance of the base holding signs that are dated Oct. 25, 2014.

In other pictures released by online jihadists who support Ansar al Sharia, several vehicles can be seen that were allegedly captured from Haftar’s fighters recently. The pictures are shown below.

Fighting is also taking place in the eastern Benghazi district of Garyounis, as a newly-released video shows a heavy firefight between Haftar’s forces and Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council fighters.

Some reports claim that the leader of Ansar al Sharia, Mohammad al Zahawi, was killed in the recent fighting, but that is doubtful. The claims cannot be verified and no firm evidence has surfaced indicating that Zahawi has, in fact, been killed. Ansar al Sharia has not issued a statement confirming or denying these reports, and Zahawi has been reported killed before, only to later resurface.

Fighting in Benghazi

The recent fighting in Benghazi is just the latest violence to have rocked the city since the end of the civil war in 2011. In May of this year, Haftar launched a major offensive in the city to “cleanse” it of jihadists. The operation, dubbed “Operation Dignity,” was initially successful but has since reached a bitter stalemate.

In July, the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council was able to overtake a Libyan special forces base in the city. On its official Twitter feed, Ansar al Sharia posted a video of its leader, Mohammad al Zahawi, discussing his group’s “victory.” The group also posted photos of the weapons, or “booty,” it captured, as well as scenes from the assault on the base. [See LWJ’s report, Ansar al Sharia, allies seize Libyan special forces base in Benghazi.]

According to a map made by Twitter analyst @MaliWitness and his colleague, Ansar al Sharia and Haftar’s forces each control around half of Benghazi, with large parts also being contested.

Earlier this month, the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council was reportedly responsible for a series of suicide bombings in and around the city, including several at the Benina International Airport. Al Jazeera reported that up to four vehicle-borne explosive devices (VBIEDs) were used on the airport, which killed 40 Libyan troops. Four troops were also killed in a separate attack in the eastern part of Benghazi. [For more, read LWJ’s report, Jihadists launch multiple suicide bombings in Libya.]

The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council

The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), which is fighting against Haftar’s forces, is an alliance of several jihadist groups in the city. The main four groups in the alliance are Ansar al Sharia, the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, Libya Shield 1, and the Rafallah al Sahati Brigades.

Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group, is likely the overall leader of the alliance. The group gained widespread attention after its fighters took part in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi. [For more on Ansar al Sharia’s links to al Qaeda, see LWJ reports: Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa and State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders.]

The February 17th Martyrs Brigade is another large militia in Benghazi and was once considered an ally of both the Libyan government and the US in eastern Libya. The Brigade was also paid to provide security for the US Mission in Benghazi around the time of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks.

Libya Shield 1, which was originally part of the larger Libya Shield Forces, is another militia within the BRSC. The Shield has been led by Wissam Bin Hamid, who was initially considered an American security ally in Benghazi, but failed to intervene on the night of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack. He is currently fighting alongside Ansar al Sharia and has been featured in the group’s videos and propaganda. [See LWJ reports: Ansar al Sharia ally a key figure in Benghazi security failures and Ansar al Sharia video features jihadist once thought to be US ally in Benghazi.]

The Rafallah al Sahati Brigade is the last major group in the BRSC. It is an Islamist brigade that has been closely allied with Ansar al Sharia.

The pictures below were released by online jihadists who support Ansar al Sharia and allegedly show vehicles recently captured from Haftar’s forces:

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Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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3 Comments

  • irebukeu says:

    Oh yes, the legendary and oft appearing Col Khalifa Haftar is back yet again. This time he is a General. Impressive!
    Flushed out of his Virginia home after 19-20 mostly solid years of good ole soft USA living by the Libyan arab spring, he suddenly fields a hodge podge army complete with tanks, artillery and the mysterious occasional air support
    This General Haftar is like a cat with 9 lives. With a string of failed campaigns, coups and invasions under his belt the great Khalifa comes out swinging yet again.
    From wikipedia–“… and the American CIA negotiated a settlement around 1990, enabling Haftar and 300 of his soldiers to move to the United States under the U.S. refugee programme”
    CIA negotiated? Oh, what a giveaway! So this is what the Obama admin came up with to punish ansar al sharia and the Feb 17 militia for their crimes at Benghazi ? A pudgy failed Colonel turned general kept on ice for 20 years?
    Well then I for one approve as I do not want to see American ground troops searching for IEDs, finding and failing to find them yet again. The money paid by the CIA will be cheap compared to the lives lost and gold expended to maintain another expeditionary force sent to a land NOT worth defending.
    The fortunes of war change and so do allegiances. The Feb 17 militia was the security for Ambassador Stevens on Sept 11, 2012 and they ran away instead of fighting because of as they claimed on facebook at 11:30 pm local time that very same night, an ‘insult to the prophet’ That insult being of course the youtube video. The youtube video also turned out to be the motivation for the attackers. So claimed ansar al Sharia the very next morning.
    These two groups now fight together side by side against the forces supported by the CIA. If American ground troops arrived, who is to say our allies would still be allies in 6 months time. We are only one koran burning away from another flashover event at any given time.
    This operation dignity will keep on rolling as long as the CIA supplied funds keep flowing.
    For this one lets get the checkbook out.

  • DR says:

    The New Libya—brought to you by the good folks at the Obama administration.

  • Jake says:

    irebukeu,
    I really appreciated your post.
    I think part of what makes a person a general is their span of control or how large the armed forces they control.
    There were many a nobleman who commanded field armies and they were not worth their salt.
    I won’t defend Haftar’s track record as a military leader. I have not wargamed out the wars or battle’s he was involved in nor have I extensively read analysis if his military actions.
    Like you I would much rather use proxies via the CIA than U.S. ground troops. Especially because all gains made might be immediately lost after any given presidential election.

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