The week was marked by a tentative halt to heavy militia clashes in Tripoli’s South. Growing political rhetoric against the Government of National Accord (GNA) seemed to gradually replace skirmishes in Tripoli. However, this uneasy calm was short-lived after assailants, likely affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) attacked the National Oil Corporation HQ, undermining yet again confidence in Tripoli’s security situation.
The heavy clashes that opposed a loose coalition of nominally pro-GNA militias to the Al-Kaniat militia, and other pro-General National Congress (GNC) elements, subsided South of the capital city. A ceasefire, which seemed fragile by design, was upheld, though no durable solution has been found to Tripoli’s “militia problem”, as described by many analysts.
More importantly, and to a certain extent, the clashes showed that the anti-GNA sentiment, and what Al-Kaniat militia claimed to stand for, is stronger and will take precedence over other domestic issues or rivalries in the medium to long term. Despite a consolidated pro-GNA front that succeeded in repelling Al-Kaniat’s push further North, the clashes have underlined the fact that arrangements bringing together Tripoli’s militias seem to be gradually eroding at a time when all types of coalitions are possible and plausible.
Politically, whatever the outcomes, the GNA needs to portray an image of change as soon as possible, with enough assurances that a process is underway to reorganize the security landscape in the capital city. Al-Kaniat is unlikely to retreat due to a fear of backlash. In addition, while the situation in Tripoli would enable Haftar to gain allies and consolidate somewhat of an influence in the capital city, a full-scale military intervention is unlikely in the short-term as it would undermine the LNA’s public image and efforts to gain political credit ahead, despite hints at such an outcome. However, a scenario where Tripoli’s security situation deteriorates further in Tripoli and/or elections’ outcome, if held, is unfavourable to factions in the East, would raise the likelihood of such a military intervention.
In a clear sign of the prevailing security vacuum in Tripoli following clashes, reports indicated explosions and gunfire inside the headquarters of the NOC on Tripoli’s Sikka Road at approximately 0850hrs on 10 Sep. Initial reports suggest approximately six unidentified gunmen dressed in civilian uniforms entered the building and opened fire whilst detonating person-borne improvised explosive devices (PBIED), previously believed to be grenade explosions. Thus far, the attack has reportedly resulted in 2 fatalities, NOC employees, and at least 10 injuries.
Overall, Islamic State (IS) involvement, though unconfirmed at the time of writing, is likely given the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used. If confirmed, this would represent the second IS complex in less than six months. The attack will likely speed up efforts to disrupt the status quo, especially following strong statements, and a more direct approach by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), reportedly to advocate an “alternative” process as plan B, beyond Ghassan Salame’s Action Plan.
The attack will further undermine confidence in Tripoli’s security situation and likelihood of elections by Dec 2018. The attack closely follows the outbreak of heavy militia clashes on 26 Aug, the GNA PM Fayez Al-Serraj’s decision to appoint himself as Defence Minister, and more recently the NOC announcing its highest forecast annual revenues since 2013.