IS Moving Further Into Libya in a Bid to Gain Access to OilJanuary 5, 2016 in Libya
On 14 December, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reported that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is spreading from its stronghold on the Libyan coast to the interior of the country, with the aim of getting access to oil wells.
Speaking to RTL radio, Le Drian stated that “they are in Sirte, their territory extends 250 kilometres (155 miles) along the coast, but they are starting to penetrate the interior and to be tempted by access to oil wells and reserves.” Libya has 48 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, the largest in Africa and the ninth biggest in the world.
News of IS’ spread further into Libya comes as world powers are trying to convince the country’s warring factions to lay down their weapons and to fall behind a new national unity government, warning that IS-allied groups are continuing to exploit the ongoing political chaos in a bid to take parts of the country.
Sources have reported that last week, French planes carried out surveillance flights over Libya. Comments by the French Defense Minister are likely to be a reference to reported attempts by IS militants to expand from Sirte into the town of Ajdabiya in the east. In recent weeks, there have been increasing reports of the presence of extremist groups in the town, however it remains unclear whether they are affiliates of al-Qaeda or IS. However if IS successfully manages to expand into Ajdabiya, then this could cut off oil supplies from that part of the country, where key oil terminals are located. In October, there was at least one failed attack by IS militants at the gates of Es Sidr oil terminal. Furthermore, throughout this year, other smaller oil fields in central Libya have also been attacked.
Libya has slipped into chaos since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, which IS has exploited. The United Nations believes that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters operating in the country, including 1,500 in the coastal city of Sirte. Since August 2014, when an Islamist-backed milia alliance overran Tripoli, Libya has had rival administrations.