(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Libyan forces have been making significant advancements against ISIS in Sirte as a result of support from the US who have led an airstrike campaign that began earlier this month.
ISIS has since been desperate to establish a new base, and there are reports that ISIS fighters have been escaping Sirte and heading towards other African countries. There have also been reports that suggest ISIS fighters have been heading south of Sirte to other Libyan cities and towns.
ISIS militants are also said to have gone towards the Libyan border between Algeria and Niger which are known to lack security. Officials say all neighbouring countries are on high alert in hopes of stopping the extremist group from spreading further.
A Western official monitoring the events in Sirte said, “these borders are so huge and they require a degree of professionalism that these countries do not have in order to monitor them.”
Western sources say hundreds of ISIS fighter made their way south weeks ago when the group was cornered in the centre of Sirte.
Western officials monitoring the events in Sirte claimed that most of the fighters are foreign. Many of them are Tunisian but there is also a number of fighters from sub-Saharan African countries, especially Sudan and Nigeria.
Tunisia’s air force has been ordered to stay on high alert in response to the threat of ISIS spreading to their country, said a Tunisian military officer.
Last year, Tunisia started building a wall and water trenches along its border with Libya, meanwhile, Algeria also took precautions by building a fence along its border with Libya and adding security guards at the border.
The Libyan militia groups fighting against ISIS in Sirte could not stop the flow of people fleeing Sirte which made it easier for ISIS to flee, said a Libyan military intelligence officer.
“There was almost 100 miles between us and Islamic State [in Sirte]. All that space was open desert for them to escape,” said the intelligence officer.
Instead of fleeing from Libya, some ISIS fighters might decide to stay in the country to take advantage of the chaos and lack of security.
Bani Walid, a Libyan city located between Tripoli and Misrata in the country’s southern region, is said to be in a vulnerable state and might be ISIS’s next target.
“In Sirte they told us ‘the Islamic State fighters are our sons’ and asked that we not harm them. Bani Walid will say the same, but when they start chopping off their heads, they will come to us begging for help,” said the intelligence official.
With two governments in Libya declaring their authority over the country, Libya finds itself in the same weak state it was in two years ago. The Government of National Accord (GNA) is based in Tripoli and is backed by the UN and the international community, whereas, the House of Representatives (HoR) is based in Benghazi and is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on all Libyan governments to unify and show their support to the Tripoli government.