There have been reports of confusion and panic among LNA commanders when Benghazi Defence Brigades fighters attacked Sidra and Ras Lanuf on Friday. There is also likely to have been considerable anger among LNA top brass that an assault, so long anticipated, should have succeeded with such apparent ease.
It is now clear that the LNA counterattack on Ras Lanuf was not the complete success originally claimed. Indeed one source insisted today that the troops had been pulled back from the town purely so that a series of helicopter and fixed wing airstrikes could go in.
This evening, LNA spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mismari said that BDB militia had been joined by fighters from Misrata. It is understood that militiamen from Sabratha have also arrived at the front.
Battlefield reports have been confused. At one point today the LNA was claiming to have retaken Ras Lanuf airfield which is to the immediate west of the town.
But later there were reports that soldiers had withdrawn towards Al-Uqaylah and even another 50 kilometres further east to the Brega export terminal. Jamal Zubia, foreign media department chief of Khalifa Ghwell’s resurrected National Salvation Government, claimed tonight that the LNA was withdrawing toward Ajdabiya.
The LNA has been uncharacteristically quiet about battlefield casualties which suggests the degree of confusion its units have experienced. It is known that four LNA soldiers have been killed at Ras Lanuf, all members of the Magharba tribe.
The BDB is boasting of seizure of artillery and vehicles. When it overran Ras Lanuf airport, it appears to have captured a Mi-17 helicopter gunship
Despite the fighting, a senior source at the National Oil Corporation (NOC) has said that yesterday an unnamed tanker completed loading 400,000 barrels of crude at Ras Lanuf and then sailed out. The same source said that the BDB and its allies were in complete control of all of Ras Lanuf and Sidra. The NOC have withdrawn their staff from the terminal and also from Sidra.
The reverses of the last 48 hours have clearly dented Hafter’s military reputation. Until now, his reduction of Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council and their Al-Qaeda and Ansar Al-Sharia terrorist allies in Benghazi has been painfully slow and costly. Six more soldiers died yesterday in the siege of the 12 Apartments complex in Ganfouda in which the terrorists are supposedly cut off from all food and ammunition resupply.
But last June at Ajdabiya, he defeated the first BDB attack toward Benghazi. Then his rapid and almost bloodless September seizure of the eastern oil terminals won him widespread admiration. It was though, the result of a deal with the men on site protecting the terminals, not of a military victory.
The operation saw off the Petroleum Facilities Guard of Ibrahim Jadhran which had occupied and kept the terminals largely shut down since 2014. NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla said that Libya had lost $1 billion in oil sale because of Jadhran.
Once the LNA had taken over the Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Brega and Zuetina export terminals it handed them back to NOC in Tripoli to run.
Today an LNA convoy reportedly came under fire as it moved through Ajdabiya, Jadhran’s home town. Three people were arrested and said to be Jadhran supporters.