GNA-aligned forces capture Sabratha, Surman, al-Ajilat from the LNA
On 13 April, armed groups aligned to the Government of National Accord (GNA) claimed to have captured the pro-Libyan National Army (LNA) towns of Sabratha, Surman, al-Ajilat, al-Jamil, Qirdalin, Zelten, al-Aassa and Mellitah in north-western Libya. The LNA also lost control of critical facilities and bases within these towns, including military headquarters and weapons caches. The GNA-aligned forces are reported to have predominantly come from Zawiyya and initially moved on Surman with notable aerial support – as many as 16 aerial attacks were launched on LNA locations during the course of the assault. The intensity of the fighting varied, with heavy clashes in the Surman and Sabratha areas reportedly lasting 6 hours, while the GNA-aligned forces allegedly entered al-Ajilat peacefully. Some initial reports suggest that there have been incidents of retributive violence and pillaging by the GNA-aligned forces. The GNA’s Minister of Interior, Fathi Bashaagha, has released a statement claiming that the civilians in these towns will not be left to suffer in a security vacuum.
Appearing to be an extension of the GNA’s Operation Peace Storm, the capture of Surman and Sabratha is a notable strategic win for the GNA that – it if can hold the territory – will see it effectively control and consolidate the whole of the western coast from Tripoli through to the Tunisian border. For the LNA, this is a significant blow to its efforts to dominate the north western region, both symbolically and physically, and take control of the Tunisian-Libya border at Ras Ajdir. The loss of physical operation rooms means critical intelligence is likely to have fallen into the hands of the anti-LNA forces, while the loss of its foothold in this region also threatens its other critical asset in the western region: Watiya airbase. As such, the GNA-aligned forces are likely to launch a follow up assault on Watiya airbase in the immediate term, but it is likely to be much more difficult to capture given the geographic details of the base.
It remains unclear thus far whether such a territorial gain by GNA-aligned forces will amount to a decisive turn in the persisting military stalemate with Haftar forces.