A month after ISIS’s sudden and nearly simultaneous seizures of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria shocked the world, the Islamist group may be in retreat on its third major battlefield: Libya. According to sources on the ground and the Libyan army, forces loyal to the internationally recognized government in Tobruk have retaken towns surrounding the ISIS stronghold of Derna, while rival jihadi groups and residents enraged by ISIS’s stringent rule have rebelled against it inside the city. More, via the Times of London:
Fierce fighting erupted in the city last Wednesday when Isis militants killed three top commanders from the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, a rival al-Qaeda linked umbrella group, and Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, another Islamist militia. The killings angered residents already weary of the jihadists’ reign of terror, marked by public beheadings, enforcement of strict interpretation of Sharia and a steady stream of foreign fighters. […]Witnesses told The Times that Isis militants have scattered into their residential neighbourhoods, fleeing so quickly that they abandoned their injured.“They are being forced to defend their homes. People came out with weapons they had been hiding for many months, everyone came together against them,” said Ali, a 55-year-old resident.On Sunday, a spokesman of the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council said on local Libyan TV that its forces had pushed Isis out of “90 per cent of the town”.The Libyan military — who denied co-ordinating with Derna’s anti-Isis militias — said it would sweep in during the next few days and “finish the job”.
Though Western media frequently talk of its bases, strongholds, and even command structure, ISIS is not a traditional army in any sense, as Howard Gambrill Clark writes for our upcoming issue—and so defeats such as this may not be as devastating to it as they first appear. ISIS is excellent at fading into the local population after the loss of leaders or territory, then recalibrating and popping up elsewhere, exactly as it did has done in Syria and Iraq. Nor are any facts on the ground in war-torn Libya permanent, to say the least. Yet a blow to ISIS is something to cheer, especially as its toehold on Libya’s coast raises fears that it would sneak militants aboard refugee boats to attack European targets. A successful rebellion against ISIS’s unendurable rule is also heartening; as Clark points out (read the whole thing here) the greatest threat to jihadi rule is local intransigence.