Is­lamic State loses Libya bas­tion

Sirte - from Gaddafi to IS and now to govt forces

Kuwait Times - - FROM THE ARABIC PRESS - TRIPOLI: Far longer than planned

Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed govern­ment said yes­ter­day they had seized full con­trol of Sirte from the Is­lamic State group, in a ma­jor blow to the ji­hadists who bat­tled for months to re­tain their bas­tion. The bat­tle for the coastal city, which was the last sig­nif­i­cant ter­ri­tory held by IS in Libya, cost the lives of hun­dreds of loy­al­ist troops as well as an un­known num­ber of IS fight­ers. “Our forces have to­tal con­trol of Sirte,” Reda Issa, a spokesman for pro-govern­ment forces said. “Our forces saw Daesh (IS) to­tally col­lapse.”

Forces al­lied with the coun­try’s unity govern­ment launched an of­fen­sive to re­take the city on May 12, quickly seiz­ing large ar­eas of the city and cor­ner­ing the ji­hadists. But IS put up fierce re­sis­tance with sui­cide car bomb­ings, snipers and im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices. “Daesh has to­tally col­lapsed and dozens of them have given them­selves up to our forces,” said a state­ment on the loy­al­ist forces’ of­fi­cial Face­book page. The cap­ture of Sirte boosts the author­ity of the UN-backed Govern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord (GNA), which was launched in Tripoli last March but whose le­git­i­macy is con­tested by a ri­val ad­min­is­tra­tion based in eastern Libya.

The United States started a bomb­ing cam­paign in Au­gust at the re­quest of the GNA to help lo­cal forces re­cap­ture the city, seized by ji­hadists in June 2015. As of De­cem­ber 1, US war­planes, drones and he­li­copters had con­ducted 470 strikes. Libya de­scended into chaos fol­low­ing the NATO-backed oust­ing of long­time dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gaddafi in 2011, with ri­val ad­min­is­tra­tions emerg­ing and well-armed mili­tias vy­ing for con­trol of the coun­try’s vast oil wealth. The in­fight­ing and law­less­ness al­lowed ex­trem­ist groups such as IS to seize sev­eral coastal re­gions, giv­ing the ji­hadists a toe­hold on Europe’s doorstep.

The fall of Sirte-Gaddafi’s home­town lo­cated 450 kilo­me­ters east of Tripoli-rep­re­sents a ma­jor set­back for IS, which has also faced a se­ries of mil­i­tary de­feats in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi forces are ad­vanc­ing on the IS strong­hold of Mo­sul, while a US-backed Kur­dish-Arab al­liance last month launched an of­fen­sive to re­take Raqa, the Syr­ian cap­i­tal of the “caliphate” the ji­hadists pro­claimed in 2014. “Los­ing it (Sirte) could cause a mo­men­tary loss of trac­tion, but a lot will de­pend on what hap­pens in Syria and Iraq and whether the un­governed spa­ces in Libya will re­main such,” said Mat­tia Toaldo, a Libya expert with the Euro­pean Coun­cil of For­eign Re­la­tions.

Toaldo said IS’s fail­ure to hold Sirte was due in part to the group’s lack of re­sources in Libya. “They didn’t man­age to seize any con­sid­er­able source of rev­enue,” he said. “What they found in the banks in Sirte was not com­pa­ra­ble to what they found in Mo­sul, nor was there an equiv­a­lent weapons stock­pile.” The fight for Sirte took far longer than orig­i­nally planned, but signs emerged in re­cent days that IS fight­ers were about to ca­pit­u­late. The Pen­tagon last week said that IS hold­outs were stag­ing a “last stand” in their for­mer strong­hold. Pro-GNA forces on Sun­day said they had even ar­rested sev­eral ji­hadists at­tempt­ing to swim to safety.

Al­most seven months of fight­ing left nearly 700 GNA fight­ers dead and 3,000 wounded. Issa said in Novem­ber that the fi­nal as­sault was held up mainly be­cause it would “re­sult in very intense street fight­ing and Daesh is de­ter­mined to de­fend its po­si­tions right down to the last square me­tre.” Claudia Gazz­ini, an an­a­lyst with the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group think-tank, said that ji­hadists who es­caped from Sirte had likely moved south to Sebha, closer to Libya’s bor­ders with Al­ge­ria and Niger. Others from the group are be­lieved to be op­er­at­ing in Benghazi and pos­si­bly in and around Tripoli. “De­spite the demise of IS in Sirte we can­not rule out that they will con­tinue to have cells in other parts of the coun­try,” Gazz­ini said. — AFP

Sirte, where Libyan pro-govern­ment forces said yes­ter­day they seized full con­trol af­ter more than six months of fight­ing, had been in the hands of Is­lamic State group ji­hadists since 2015. Here is back­ground on the city:

Sirte is on the Mediter­ranean coast roughly half-way be­tween Libya’s cap­i­tal Tripoli in the west and sec­ond city Benghazi in the east. A ma­jor port city, it lies just 350 kilo­me­ters from the Ital­ian coast. It is also a mere 150 kilo­me­ters west of Libya’s main oil-pro­duc­ing area and ex­port ter­mi­nals. Oil is a vi­tal source of in­come for Libya, and sev­eral groups have fought to con­trol its wells and pipelines since the fall of dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gaddafi in 2011. The pres­ence of IS in Sirte had raised fears it would at­tempt to seize the fields to fund its North Africa op­er­a­tions. The United States on Au­gust 1 car­ried out its first air strikes on the town, at the Libyan unity govern­ment’s re­quest, with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama say­ing de­feat­ing IS there was in Amer­ica’s na­tional in­ter­est. US war­planes, drones and he­li­copters con­ducted more than 460 strikes.

Gaddafi, who was born in Sirte in 1942, made great ef­forts to turn his birth­place into the cap­i­tal of his “Jamahiriya”-a “state of the masses” run by lo­cal com­mit­tees. He cre­ated a new prov­ince around the town in ad­di­tion to the three ex­ist­ing re­gions of Cyre­naica in the east, Fez­zan in the south­west, and Tripoli­ta­nia in the north. In the 1990s, he or­dered min­istries to be cre­ated in Sirte, and even set up a par­lia­ment there, but even­tu­ally gave up on his plans. Gaddafi was cap­tured and killed in the town on Oc­to­ber 20, 2011.

Af­ter Gaddafi’s ouster, Sirte was largely left to its own de­vices un­til it fell into the hands of IS ji­hadists in June 2015. The black flag of IS was raised over pub­lic build­ings and ji­hadists roamed the streets in pickup trucks to check that peo­ple were pray­ing at the cor­rect times and women were not ven­tur­ing out of the home with­out a male min­der.

Pop­u­la­tion

Sirte used to have about 120,000 res­i­dents, most of them in the cen­tre or spread along the coast. Loy­al­ist forces said most had man­aged to flee fol­low­ing the IS takeover. Most peo­ple in Sirte be­long to four ma­jor tribes in­clud­ing the Kad­hadfa tribe of Gaddafi.

The forces of Libya’s in­ter­na­tion­ally backed Govern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord (GNA) launched an of­fen­sive to re­take Sirte on May 12 and were able to en­ter the city on June 9. On Au­gust 11, pro­gov­ern­ment forces cap­tured IS’s head­quar­ters at the Oua­gadougou con­fer­ence cen­tre, which Gaddafi erected to host in­ter­na­tional and African sum­mits and serve his pan-African pol­icy. It was the birth­place of the African Union with the sign­ing of the Sirte Dec­la­ra­tion in 1999. Loy­al­ist forces pushed the ji­hadists into a hand­ful of res­i­den­tial ar­eas, grad­u­ally tak­ing them one by one in the face of fierce re­sis­tance in­clud­ing a wave of sui­cide bomb­ings. — AFP

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