Libya unity forces in street battles with IS in Sirte

June 10, 2016 | By | Reply More

Jun 10, – The loss of Sirte, the hometown of ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi, would be a major blow to IS at a time when it is under mounting pressure in Syria and Iraq.

Libya unity forces in street battles with IS in SirteForces loyal to Libya’s unity government fought street battles with the Islamic State group on Friday as they pressed an offensive to capture the jihadists’ coastal bastion.

Analysts have warned that the fall of Sirte would not spell the end of the jihadists in Libya, where they have fed on political and military divisions since the 2011 uprising that killed Kadhafi.

Friday’s clashes raged around the Ouagadougou conference centre, a sprawling Kadhafi-era complex which once hosted Arab and African summits and which now houses an IS command centre.

From early in the day, forces aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) pounded IS positions around the complex with heavy artillery fire.

Warplanes of the GNA also carried out air strikes around the centre and on other IS positions inside Sirte, according to the Facebook page and Twitter account of the anti-jihadist operation.

An AFP correspondent at the scene reported heavy street fighting about two kilometres (one mile) from the Ouagadougou centre.

GNA forces used tanks, rocket launchers and artillery, the correspondent said, while the jihadists responded with machineguns, mortar rounds and sniper fire.

“It was a war with planes and artillery, but now it is street fighting,” said one GNA combattant who declined to be named.

“We are fighting between houses, on the streets, and we won’t back down before we eliminate them.”

– ‘The countdown has begun’ –

The GNA forces apparently pushed their way from the west into the city centre, and the AFP correspondents saw dozens of 4X4 vehicles deployed along the way.

The GNA said in a tweet that two of its fighters were killed and eight wounded and taken to a Misrata hospital, further east.

It also reported a failed attempt by IS to attack them with a car bomb, but gave no further details. An unspecified number of civilians who had been held by the jihadists were freed, it said.

“The countdown has begun,” the GNA said on Twitter.

GNA forces are mostly made up of militias from western cities, notably Misrata, that have sided with the GNA and the guards of oil installations that IS has repeatedly tried to seize.

A Libyan government official said the operation was being carried out “under the control of the GNA operations room… but obviously in close cooperation with Misrata”.

“The battle wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be… Their force (IS) has dispersed. They (Misrata forces) have taken almost all the city now,” the official said.

IS has held Sirte since June 2015. Foreign intelligence services estimate it has 5,000 fighters in Libya but its strength inside Sirte and the number of civilians living in the city are unavailable.

“The operation will not last much longer,” said GNA forces spokesman Mohamad Ghassri on Thursday after its forces thrust into Sirte’s city centre.

“I think we’ll be able to announce the liberation of Sirte in two or three days,” he said.

– What will happen next? –

President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the international coalition battling IS, Brett McGurk, tweeted on Thursday that GNA forces were making “rapid advances” against the jihadists.

GNA forces launched the Sirte offensive in mid-May and have seized towns, a power plant and army barracks before Thursday’s advance on the city centre.

But analysts have warned that recapturing Sirte would not end IS violence in Libya.

“What will happen to all the forces mobilised against IS?” asked Mohamed Eljarh of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“And Haftar’s forces? There is a risk that they turn against each other,” he said.

Controversial General Khalifa Haftar is an opponent of the GNA who heads forces loyal to a rival government backed by the internationally recognised parliament now based in the country’s far east.

On the GNA’s Facebook page, prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj called Friday on “all military forces to unite in the face of our common enemy… and to join the victorious forces”.

But Ahmed al-Mesmari, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces, told AFP that “the groups that are fighting IS in Sirte are illegitimate militias, loyal to an illegitimate government”.

Haftar’s forces have reportedly stopped in villages south of Sirte and not advanced on the city.

Press journalist for HRO media – Khizer Hayat reports.

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Category: Arab uprising

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