Fighters who control key oil terminals in eastern Libya say they have captured the coastal town of Ben Jawad from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known ISIS), east of their stronghold of Sirte.
The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) said on Monday that they had “liberated” the town of Ben Jawad, some 160km east of the central city of Sirte, and that fighting was raging for control of the nearby town of Nawfiliyah.
A Ben Jawad resident told the AP news agency that the town had been cleared of ISIL fighters by Monday afternoon.
“I believe the ISIL presence was limited in that area, there were less than 10 vehicles and ISIL is not very good at confrontation as they lack the firepower,” Saad Abu-Sharada said.
However, Ali al-Hassi, a spokesman for the PFG, said four of his fighters had been killed and 16 others wounded in the clashes.
The PFG, an armed force of 27,000 members set up to protect Libya’s oil infrastructure, claims it is partisan and loyal to the recently UN-brokered government.
Elsewhere in Libya, militiamen from the western city of Misrata – who are also loyal to the government – said they were pushing toward Sirte, ISIL’s main stronghold.
ISIL seized control of Sirte last year, extending its presence along about 250km of coastline on either side of the city.
Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two parliaments and governments, each backed by a loose set of militias and tribes. The eastern government and parliament were formed after parliamentary elections, but the Tripoli parliament refused to hand over power to them.
Following a UN-brokered deal between factions from each camp at the end of last year, the new unity government has tried to consolidate its grip in the capital, Tripoli, but has faced resistance from various political players and armed groups.
Libya descended into chaos after the toppling and death of Muammar Gaddafi five years ago and soon turned into a battleground of rival groups battling for control.
The power vacuum has allowed ISIL to expand its presence. The group is estimated to have around 5,000 fighters across the country.