Derna, Libya, a city infamous for having sent Islamist fighters to Syria and Afghanistan and described by many as a jihadi hotbed, has finally been liberated. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army, battled for the city throughout 2018. The LNA launched a ground assault to capture Derna in May 2018 after encircling the city, the last in eastern Libya to evade their control. The West regarded such action as bad timing and felt it could undermine U.N.-led attempts to reconcile Libya and carry elections.
After the downfall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, years of violence have created a safe haven for militants and smugglers. Libya’s economy has been crippled by the danger these forces present, as the unsafe conditions have caused oil & gas companies to withdraw from the country. Haftar’s campaign to retake the country’s turbulent southern region has begun providing some much-needed stability to the country.
Until recently, conflict has continued to rage in the city of Derna between Haftar’s LNA and the Derna Protection Force (DPF). The DPF is a Libyan militia organized by Ateyah Al-Shaari in May 2018, during the LNA’s offensive on Derna. This group has taken in members of ISIS and al-Qaeda to beef up their ranks and continue their offensives against the LNA.
After a year of fighting in the city, Haftar declared on February 14, 2019 that Derna—once a sanctuary for these radicals groups—has been liberated.
There are inconsistent opinions on social media that suggest that the LNA has committed war crimes in the city. The eastern LNA army’s chief of staff, Abdel-Razeq Nathouri, denied the claims, but said any soldiers who had committed crimes would face prosecution.
Some locals have turned to Twitter to claim the city has never been stronger, and these claims of atrocities are nothing but a fraudulent lie. Some have even insisted that the LNA has acted to stop abuses, such as looting, which has been blamed on auxiliary tribal forces.
Reconciliation in the city will take time as some want vengeance for their suffering under the Islamists’ rule.