Military Wiki
Battle of Sabha
Part of Fezzan campaign of the Libyan Civil War
Date19–22 September 2011
LocationSabha, Libya
Result Anti-Gaddafi victory

Libya Anti-Gaddafi forces

NATO NATO command[1]

Libya Armed forces of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Commanders and leaders
Libya Bashir Ahwaz Libya Massoud Abdelhafid[2]
Unknown 300[3]
Casualties and losses
18 killed[4] 19 killed,[5] 150 captured[3]

The Battle of Sabha was a battle between forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebel anti-Gaddafi forces for control of the desert oasis city of Sabha and a part of the Libyan Civil War. It was the second conflict in the city since the start of the war after the 2011 Sabha clashes.


Sabha is located by an oasis in the Libyan Desert and is home to an important military base.[6] Much of its population are migrants from Chad, Niger, and Sudan.[7] These migrants had been brought to Libya by Gaddafi in the 1980s and given employment and stipends by the regime to ensure their support. In addition, the city is home to a large number of members of the Qadhadhfa tribe, to which Gaddafi belongs.[8] As a result, the city was regarded as a stronghold of pro-Gaddafi sentiment as the anti-regime protests that began across Libya in February 2011 turned into civil war.[6] As the conflict progressed, however, many of the migrants went north to fight against the rebels, draining Gaddafi's major base of support in the city. Those who remained behind were mostly armed young locals and members of the Awlad Suleiman tribe. The Awlad Suleiman bear strong resentment against the regime. Shortly after Gaddafi seized power, members of the tribe were accused of plotting to overthrow him. Many tribesmen were executed and imprisoned as a result.[7]

Earlier in the conflict, there was a local uprising in the city. Gaddafi's men crushed this uprising, resulting in a temporary peace during which many pro-Gaddafi forces fled to the city after the massive rebel gains of late August, turning the city into a bastion of sorts.[9]

Lead-up to the battle

In late August there were reports of clashes around the city. Gaddafi loyalists retained control of the city.[10][11] Gaddafi's men were reinforced by troops from elsewhere in the country while the rebels found themselves running low on ammunition and other supplies.[12]

Anti-Gaddafi forces continued to approach the city in early September,[13] with a spokesperson saying that they were fighting at Sabha with "equipment that they did not have".[14][15] British forces claimed that they had conducted a series of air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets in and around Sabha, destroying two armoured cars and six tanks among other things.[16][17]

Rebel assault on the city

On 19 September, spokesman for the NTC Ministry of Defence, Col. Ahmed Bani, announced at a press conference that NTC fighters managed to capture Sabha airport and fort. There was no immediate independent verification of his claims.[18]

On 20 September, NTC forces entered the city of Sabha, taking the city center with little resistance.[19] A CNN reporter accompanied NTC forces, confirming the reports.[20][21] An NTC military spokesman in Benghazi said Sabha Airport was under the control of anti-Gaddafi fighters, but fighting was continuing in some quarters of the city proper, particularly in the district of al-Manshiya.[22][23]

Although Sabha was assumed by many to be a pro-Gaddafi stronghold, CNN's Ben Wedeman reported that NTC forces were greeted with cheers from large parts of the local population as they entered the city, and many residents he talked to claimed they had supported the revolution against Gaddafi from the beginning but were unable to demonstrate due to the strong loyalist presence in the city.[24]

On 21 September, the NTC announced that almost the whole of Sabha was under their control, with widespread defections from pro-Gaddafi elements helping to end the battle, and NTC forces were encountering only sporadic resistance from few individuals.[25] Loyalists were still resisting in the Al Manshiya district.[26]

On 22 September, opposition forces cleared the last remaining pockets of resistance in the city. Journalists in the city stated that only a few rogue snipers remained.[4]


On 22 September near Sabha, NTC forces discovered two warehouses containing thousands of blue barrels marked with tape saying "radioactive" and plastic bags of yellow powder sealed with the same tape.[27][28] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated, "We can confirm that there is yellowcake stored in drums at a site near Sabha ... which Libya previously declared to the IAEA. ... The IAEA has tentatively scheduled safeguards activities at this location once the situation in the country stabilises."[29]

There were rumours about Gaddafi fleeing the town before it was captured by the rebels. Military spokesman Ahmad Bani said that the NTC authorities were investigating the claims.[30]


  1. "Nato takes control of enforcing Libya no-fly zone". 25 March 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  2. Ruth Sherlock and Richard Spencer in Tripoli (10 September 2011). "All eyes on the desert as the hunt for Gaddafi continues". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Libya’s NTC claims vital Sabha victory
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Libya conflict: Anti-Gaddafi fighters take Sabha". BBC News. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  5. Lucas, Ryan (20 September 2011). "Libyans flee Sirte as Khadafy foes close in". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Battles rage in western Libya". ABC News. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hadeel al-Shalchi, Maggie Michael (12 June 2011). "Libyan forces fight rebels on several fronts". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  8. Shashank Joshi (13 June 2011). "Libya: Illusion of momentum as Nato campaign drags on". BBC. Archived from the original on 17 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  9. "Press digest". Times of Malta. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  10. "Libya rebels in "fierce" fight for Sabha--spokesman". Reuters. 23 August 2011. 
  12. "Libyan war 'not over' as Gadhafi's son killed in battle, rebels say". CNN. 17 September 2011. 
  13. Michael Ofori Amanfo Boateng. "Libya group seeks return of Gadhafi son". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  15. "Cameron, Sarkozy in Libya For Gains". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  16. Michael Ofori Amanfo Boateng. "Libya fighters hit Gaddafi strongholds". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  17. "NATO airstrikes pound pro-Gadhafi targets". CBC News. 13 September 2011. 
  18. "Libyan forces say they have captured part of Sabha". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  19. Libya 20/9: Phát hiện tung tích 2 con trai Gaddafi (Vietnamese)
  20. "Alleged Gadhafi message says his system cannot be overthrown; rebels enter Sabha". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  21. CNN. "CNN Ben Wedeman report from Sabha". CNN Video. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  22. "Tue, 20 Sep 2011, 02:17 GMT+3 - Libya". 20 September 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  23. "Factbox: Latest developments in the Libyan conflict". Reuters. 20 September 2011. 
  24. Wedeman, Ben (20 September 2011). "Government forces enter Libya's Sabha, to cheers". CNN. Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  25. "Al Jazeera Live Blog". Al Jazeera Blogs. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  26. NTC claims victory in Sabha; new cabinet within 10 days
  27. the CNN Wire Staff (22 September 2011). "Libya military site yields possible radioactive material". CNN. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  28. Libya's Ex-PM Held As Chemical Weapons Found
  29. Dahl, Fredrik; Angus MacSwan (22 September 2011). "Raw uranium stored near Libya's Sabha - IAEA". Archived from the original on 24 September 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2011. 
  30. "Libyan NTC Forces Say Control All Of Sabha". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 

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