Libya’s eastern city of Derna has been threatened with a military ground operation for months – and it now appears to be underway, led by forces under thecommand of the controversial Field Marshal Khalifa Hefter.
Derna is the last major city in the east not under the control of Field Marshal Hefter’s troops, and is seen as a haven for militant training by neighbouring Egypt.
The battle there today is against the Mujahedeen Shura council – a mixed group of local militias which include Islamists and others who helped topple Col Muammar Gaddafi from power in 2011.
Some are believed to have links to al-Qaeda, an accusation that’s been denied by the council’s members in the past.
Derna was the first city to fall into the hands of the so-called Islamic State in 2014, but IS was ejected from there by the Mujahedeen shura council a year later.
Libya is bitterly divided along military, political and regional lines, and this will be seen by many as yet another battle for increased territorial clout with an eye on wider political gains.
It also presents a fresh challenge for the international community’s efforts to reconcile rival communities and end the political stalemate there.
A European diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told the BBC: “The Derna operation is likely to inflame tensions and will make it harder to achieve political progress and national reconciliation.”
What’s more, there is also concern this latest military operation will be a protracted conflict akin to the destructive and deadly three-year war that Filed Marshal Hefter’s forces fought against Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi.