Libyan forces fight IS in Sirte, pre­dict they will seize city soon

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

TRIPOLI—Forces aligned with Libya’s unity gov­ern­ment were en­gaged in fierce clashes with Is­lamic State on Thurs­day in the group’s strong­hold of Sirte, but were fac­ing re­sis­tance from snipers as they edged to­ward the city cen­ter.

Brigades in the west­ern city of Mis­rata have ad­vanced rapidly, driv­ing mil­i­tants back along the coastal road west of Sirte be­fore seiz­ing strate­gic points on the edge of the city.

A sep­a­rate mili­tia con­trol­ling oil ter­mi­nals in Libya’s oil cres­cent, the Pe­tro­leum Fa­cil­i­ties Guard (PFG), says it is mak­ing ground from the east, re­duc­ing the 250 km (155 mile) strip of Mediter­ranean coast­line that Is­lamic State held by at least half.

If the ad­vances are sus­tained, they could dis­lodge Is­lamic State from its most im­por­tant base out­side the Mid­dle East and pro­vide a boost to the U.N.-backed Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord (GNA).

Mo­hamed al-Gasri, a mil­i­tary spokesman based in Mis­rata, said fight­ing was un­der­way on Thurs­day near the Ouagadougou con­fer­ence hall, where Is­lamic State hold re­li­gious in­struc­tion ses­sions.

“We think that Sirte will be lib­er­ated within days not weeks,” Gasri said. “The Daesh (Is­lamic State) snipers are a con­cern to us be­cause they shoot from long dis­tances and that has hin­dered us in the bat­tle in­side the city,” he added.

The brigades had al­ready claimed con­trol over a num­ber of strate­gic sites on Sirte’s out­skirts in­clud­ing an air base, sev­eral mil­i­tary camps and a round­about where Is­lamic State had pre­vi­ously hung the bod­ies of ex­e­cuted en­e­mies.

Dozens of brigade mem­bers have been killed and hun­dreds wounded in the past month of fight­ing. On Wed­nes­day alone, 15 men were killed and 95 in­jured, a Mis­rata hospi­tal spokesman said.

The main hospi­tal in Mis­rata is over­flow­ing and some fight­ers have been flown to Turkey or Italy for treat­ment. On Thurs­day the GNA ap­pealed in a state­ment for fur­ther in­ter­na­tional med­i­cal aid “for our heroes at the front lines”.

The GNA is de­signed to re­place two ri­val gov­ern­ments that have com­peted for power from Tripoli and from the east since 2014, backed by com­plex al­liances of armed groups.

Both the PFG and key armed groups from Mis­rata have pledged to sup­port it. West­ern pow­ers see the new gov­ern­ment as the best chance of end­ing the tur­moil plagu­ing Libya since Muam­mar Gaddafi was forced from power in an up­ris­ing five years ago.

Since ar­riv­ing in Tripoli in March the GNA has sought to meld some of Libya’s key armed fac­tions into a uni­fied se­cu­rity force, even as it con­tin­ues to face re­sis­tance from po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary hard­lin­ers in the east. These in­clude eastern mil­i­tary com­man­der Khal­ifa Haf­tar, who has been con­duct­ing a cam­paign against Is­lamists and other op­po­nents in Beng­hazi for the past two years. The GNA ap­pointed another eastern com­man­der, Mahdi al-Barghathi, as min­is­ter of de­fense. He has been try­ing to peel away sup­port from Haf­tar, and last week two mil­i­tary units in Beng­hazi an­nounced their sup­port for the GNA.—Reuters

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