Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally-recognized government have pushed Daesh out of the key eastern city of Derna, with the terrorists fleeing to their main stronghold in Sirte.
Abdelkarim Sabra, the spokesman for Derna’s Omar Mukhtar Security Operations Room, said on Thursday that Daesh had escaped in some 32 vehicles.
The terrorists “escaped into an area south of Derna, following the instructions of their leader [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi, and from there they fled into the desert,” Sabra said.
The spokesman said the fleeing militants also detonated a bomb at a patrol station in al-Maheili, a strategic area providing access to routes leading to Ajdabiya, Sirte and even Egypt.
The remote desert is also known as a hub for the smuggling of people, drugs and weapons, with the Libyan army failing to maintain any meaningful control over the volatile area.
Meanwhile, a former senior official from Sirte who identified himself as Said Mohamed has said aerial surveillance would prevent the militants from moving in convoy across the troubled region.
“We are expecting they will go to Sirte, but it would be impossible for them to move through the desert in convoy because of aerial surveillance and because there are many checkpoints to pass if they use the road,” the ex-official explained.
“They will have to split up and then they have only two options – either to try to get through checkpoints on the main road, disguised in normal cars, or go via the oil fields in the desert and approach Sirte from the south,” he added.
Sources say forces loyal to Libya’s eastern government have sent 200 cars to patrol the desert in a bid to prevent from them reaching Sirte or other militant-held towns.
The retreat comes after Libyan warplanes carried out a series of air strikes against Daesh positions across the militant-riddled region.
In recent months, Derna has seen a three-way conflict among Libyan forces, the al-Qaeda-linked militants and Daesh terrorists.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Sabra also confirmed that the Libyan forces had now taken full control of two Derna suburbs from Daesh.
According to the spokesman, the government forces are conducting mop-up operations in both districts.
Daesh took control of Libya’s northern port city of Sirte in June 2015, almost four months after it announced its presence in the city, and made it the first city to be ruled by the militant group outside of Iraq and Syria.
Since then, the group has been boosting its presence in the violence-wracked country.
In a report to the UN Security Council in March, a panel of six UN experts said Daesh is taking advantage of the “political and security vacuum,” which was created in Libya after the NATO-backed ouster of former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.
The report noted that Daesh has successfully recruited young men from local tribes and also enlisted military officers from the former regime of Gaddafi.
Since August 2014, when militias seized the capital Tripoli, Libya has had two governments with one run by the rebels in the capital and the other, which is internationally-recognized, taking refuge in the far eastern city of Tobruk.