Libya forces face IS de­fense in Sirte

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Libyan forces faced fierce re­sis­tance yes­ter­day from Is­lamic State mil­i­tants de­fend­ing a fi­nal strip of land in their for­mer strong­hold of Sirte, los­ing at least five men, of­fi­cials said. Forces led by fight­ers from the city of Mis­rata and backed by US air strikes have taken all but a few dozen houses near Sirte’s Mediter­ranean seafront since they be­gan their cam­paign to re­cap­ture the city in May. As the battle has worn on they have ad­vanced more cau­tiously, try­ing to limit ca­su­al­ties among their fight­ers and among civil­ians and cap­tives trapped with the mil­i­tants.

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants have de­fended their po­si­tions us­ing snipers, tun­nels, and hid­den ex­plo­sives. The Mis­rata-led forces said in state­ments posted on so­cial me­dia ac­counts that they faced two sui­cide bombers, one us­ing a belt and the other grenades. They also said that “a woman from Daesh (Is­lamic State) be­trayed our forces and fired to­wards them when they try to pro­vide a safe pas­sage for her”.

A Reuters re­porter saw Libyan forces suf­fer­ing ca­su­al­ties as they tried to ad­vance af­ter us­ing tanks and heavy ma­chine guns be­ing used to de­stroy Is­lamic State-held build­ings. Five fight­ers from the Libyan forces had been killed and 18 wounded in the clashes said Akram Gli­wan, a hospi­tal spokesman in Mis­rata. The Mis­rata-led bri­gades said they had nev­er­the­less man­aged to take con­trol of new houses in the con­tested Ghiza Bahriya district.

Is­lamic State took full con­trol of Sirte early last year, ex­tend­ing its pres­ence along about 250 km of Libya’s coast­line. Sirte’s loss would leave the mil­i­tant group with­out any ter­ri­tory in the North African coun­try, though some of its fight­ers es­caped dur­ing the early stages of the cam­paign and of­fi­cials fear they will wage an in­sur­gency from the south and west of the city. The US has car­ried out at least 420 air strikes since be­gin­ning an air cam­paign against Is­lamic State in Sirte on Aug 1. — Reuters

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