Cor­nered IS un­de­feated in Libya bat­tle

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TRIPOLI: Af­ter a swift ini­tial thrust into the Islamic State group’s bas­tion in Libya, six months on unity gov­ern­ment forces still face dogged re­sis­tance from mil­i­tant hold­outs cor­nered in the Mediter­ranean city of Sirte. Forces loyal to Libya’s Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord (GNA) an­nounced the launch of the bat­tle for Sirte, 450 km east of Tripoli, on May 12. Within weeks, GNA forces re­cap­tured large chunks of the coastal city that IS mil­i­tants had seized in June 2015 as a stag­ing post for an ex­pan­sion into North Africa.

But they have failed to dis­lodge the last pock­ets of IS fight­ers, holed up in the fiercely-de­fended dis­trict of AlGiza Al-Bahriya, in a costly bat­tle that has left at least 667 dead and 3,000 wounded in GNA ranks. “The final as­sault is be­ing held up... mainly due to the fact that it will re­sult in very in­tense street fight­ing and Daesh (IS) is de­ter­mined to de­fend its po­si­tions right down to the last square me­ter,” Rida Issa, spokesman for the pro-GNA forces, told AFP. Ethan Chorin, a for­mer US diplo­mat posted in Tripoli and now a con­sul­tant, has an­other ex­pla­na­tion for why the as­sault, which is backed by Amer­i­can air strikes, has got bogged down. “Those fight­ing ISIS in Sirte with West­ern back­ing are not all mo­ti­vated, nor are they highly or­ga­nized,” he said, us­ing an­other acro­nym for IS. But Issa said loy­al­ist forces were tak­ing a step-by-step ap­proach to the re­cap­ture of Sirte to limit ca­su­al­ties, not only in their own ranks but also among civil­ians “who Daesh are us­ing as hu­man shields” and whose num­bers are un­known.

As for IS, the mil­i­tants do not dis­close their ca­su­al­ties but Issa gave an es­ti­mate of be­tween 1,800 and 2,000 dead. On Wed­nes­day, the US mil­i­tary an­nounced a re­sump­tion of anti-IS air strikes in Sirte fol­low­ing a one­week break, as part of an op­er­a­tion launched on Aug 1 in sup­port of the GNA that has tot­ted up 368 raids.

Cries of Civil­ians

With the ji­hadists now en­cir­cled in an area of less than one square kilo­me­tre, “it is un­clear what the im­pact of (fur­ther) air strikes would be”, said Mat­tia Toaldo, a Libya ex­pert with the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “The bat­tle has taken longer than ex­pected for a num­ber of rea­sons: First they have en­coun­tered more re­sis­tance than ex­pected... they suf­fered more ca­su­al­ties and even­tu­ally started to feel war fa­tigue,” he said.

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