Daesh shifts to desert valleys after Sirte defeat

Daesh shifts to desert valleys after Sirte defeat
A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government waving a Libyan flag flashes victory sign as he stands atop the ruins of a house after forces finished clearing Ghiza Bahriya, the final district of the former Islamic State stronghold of Sirte, Libya, in this December 6, 2016 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 February 2017

Daesh shifts to desert valleys after Sirte defeat

Daesh shifts to desert valleys after Sirte defeat

MISRATA: Daesh militants have shifted to desert valleys and inland hills southeast of Tripoli as they seek to exploit Libya’s political divisions after defeat in their former stronghold of Sirte, security officials say.
The militants, believed to number several hundred and described as “remnants” of Daesh’s Libya operation, are trying to foment chaos by cutting power and water supplies and to identify receptive local communities, the officials said.
They are being monitored through aerial surveillance and on-the-ground intelligence, but Libyan officials said they cannot easily be targeted without advanced air power of the kind used by the US on Jan. 19, when B-2 bombers killed more than 80 militants in a strike southwest of Sirte.
For more than a year, Daesh exercised total control over Sirte, building its primary North African base in the coastal city. But it struggled to keep a footing elsewhere in Libya and by December was forced out of Sirte after a six-month campaign led by brigades from the western city of Misrata and backed by US air strikes.
The terror group lost many of its fighters in the battle and now has no territory in Libya, but fugitive militants and sleeper cells are seen to pose a threat in a country that has been deeply fractured and largely lawless since the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi.
The threat is focused south of the coastal strip between Misrata and Tripoli, arcing to the southeast around the town of Bani Walid and into the desert south of Sirte, said Ismail Shukri, head of military intelligence in Misrata.
One group of 60-80 militants is operating around Girza, 170 km west of Sirte, another group of about 100 is based around Zalla and Mabrouk oil field, about 300 km southeast of Sirte, and there are reports of a third group present in Al-Uwaynat, close to the Algerian border, he said.
Some fighters were based outside Sirte before last year’s campaign, some fled during the battle and some have arrived from eastern Libya where they have been largely defeated by rival armed factions.
“They work and move around in small groups. They only use two or three vehicles at a time and they move at night to avoid detection,” said Mohamed Gnaidy, an intelligence official with forces that conducted the campaign in Sirte.
Those forces published pictures in the wake of last month’s US strike showing hideouts dug into the sand, temporary shelters camouflaged with plastic sheeting and branches, stocks of weapons and satellite phones.


EU, Turkey call for better ties after tough 2020

EU, Turkey call for better ties after tough 2020
Updated 16 min 3 sec ago

EU, Turkey call for better ties after tough 2020

EU, Turkey call for better ties after tough 2020
  • Turkey faces threat of EU economic sanctions over a hydrocarbons dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean

BRUSSELS/ANKARA: The European Union and Turkey pressed each other on Thursday to take concrete steps to improve relations long strained by disagreements over energy, migration and Ankara’s human rights record.
Turkey, which remains an official candidate for EU membership despite the tensions, is facing the threat of EU economic sanctions over a hydrocarbons dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, but the mood music between Brussels and Ankara has improved since the new year.
“We have seen an improvement in the overall atmosphere,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he welcomed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for talks, describing 2020 as complicated.
“Intentions and announcements need to be translated into actions,” Borrell said.
The improved tone follows a video conference between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Jan. 9 in which both stressed the importance of the bilateral relationship.
Cavusoglu said he hoped von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council which represents the 27 EU member states, would visit Turkey after an invitation from Erdogan.
“It is of course important for there to be a positive atmosphere in Turkey-EU ties, but in order for this to be sustainable, we must take concrete steps,” Cavusoglu added.
2020 proved particularly difficult for relations between Turkey and the EU, especially France, with Erdogan expressing publicly his hope that protests in French cities would topple President Emmanuel Macron.
Greece and Cyprus, strongly backed by France, want to punish Turkey for what they see as provocative oil and gas exploration by Turkish vessels in disputed waters, but Germany and Italy are reluctant to go ahead with any sanctions on Ankara.
Turkey has now withdrawn the vessels and is set to restart talks with Greece, although the EU has accused Ankara of playing “cat and mouse” in a pattern of provocation and reconciliation.
EU leaders will decide in March whether to impose sanctions.
Brussels also accuses Erdogan of undermining the economy, eroding democracy and destroying independent courts and media, leaving Turkey’s bid to join the EU further away than ever.
“We remain concerned about the (human rights) situation in Turkey,” Borrell said on Thursday.
The European Parliament is expected on Thursday to back a resolution calling for the release of Selahattin Demirtas, a leading Kurdish politician jailed in 20216 on terrorism-related charges.
But Turkey remains a big destination for EU trade and investment and also hosts some 4 million Syrian refugees. The EU aims to agree fresh funds for the refugees from 2022 to discourage them from coming into the bloc.
Ankara wants progress on Turks’ right to visa-free travel to the EU, an upgrade of its trade agreement with Europe and recognition of its claims to hydrocarbons off its maritime shelf.