According to recent reporting from the Long War Journal and Agence France Presse, Salafist jihadist militia Ansar al-Sharia and its allies have seized Camp Thunderbolt, a key base for Libyan Special Operations Forces located in Benghazi. The base is reported to have fallen following a week’s worth of sustained artillery shelling.
Ansar al-Sharia, the Islamist group responsible for the 11 September 2012 Benghazi attack on the US Temporary Mission Facility and CIA Annex that left four Americans dead (as SOFREP has extensively reported), also announced complete control over the city in the form of an “Islamic emirate” earlier this week.
This attack and announcement of an Islamic emirate follow weeks of intensified fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi that pits Islamist and jihadist militia coalitions against secular militias and government forces, and also follows the recent evacuation of US and other western embassy officials from the country earlier this week.
The Long War Journal reports that Ansar al-Sharia is “currently fighting under the umbrella of the ‘Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council’, and is an alliance of multiple [Salafist jihadist] groups.” Ansar al-Sharia claims that the seizure of Camp Thunderbolt deals a blow to the secular militias and government forces currently working to regain control over the city, namely career Libyan soldier General Haftar and the forces loyal to him.
Haftar, a “renegade general who last month launched an offensive against Islamist militias and their suspected political backers”, has been working closely with Libyan special forces to target the various Islamist militias in Benghazi. It remains to be seen how the loss of Camp Thunderbolt will affect these operations.
Ansar al-Sharia uploaded photos of the weapons, munitions, and equipment it seized following the assault on Camp Thunderbolt to its official Twitter account (which they’ve operated since November 2013 as SOFREP has previously reported), which can be found below (courtesy of the Long War Journal).
Among the captured equipment are vehicles used by Libyan Special Forces, countless US and foreign munitions, SA-7 MANPADS, PK machine guns, explosive detection equipment, mortar systems, assault rifles, and much more.
Regardless of the strategic value the seizure of Camp Thunderbolt provides to Ansar al-Sharia in the coming weeks, it is clear that the immediate tactical-level benefits gained by Islamist militants in Benghazi now pose an even greater threat to any forces working to stem their control over the city.
This increased threat will also be of significant concern to any additional nations planning to evacuate their embassies, facilities, or personnel in the coming weeks should fighting intensify further. It has already been reported that a British convoy came under small arms fire during an evacuation of personnel to Tunisia earlier this week.
For a quick refresher on Ansar al-Sharia, visit this BBC Profile or the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium’s (TRAC) profile. SOFREP’s List of Terrorism Resources will also provide additional resources that contain more in-depth information if required.
Thanks for listening.