Pro-government forces have said they are in a “final battle” against the “Islamic State” in its stronghold of Sirte. A three month fight to retake the city has been slowed by IS snipers, suicide bombers and booby traps.
Fighters loyal to Libya’s UN-backed government on Sunday advanced on the last “Islamic State” controlled neighborhoods in the coastal city of Sirte.
Loyalist forces have been fighting for Sirte for nearly three months, but their offensive has been slowed down by snipers, suicide bombers and booby traps since entering the city in June.
After a one week lull in fighting, pro-Government of National Accord (GNA) forces said they were on the verge of fully dislodging the last IS fighters from two districts.
“The final battle for Sirte has started,” said Reda Issa, a spokesman for the pro-GNA forces.
The Tripoli-based government has been backed by US airstrikes and Western Special Forces since August 1. Last week, US Africa Command said it had deployed SuperCobra attack helicopters to provide extra firepower.
About 1,000 pro-GNA fighters are involved in the offensive to rest control of the last IS controlled districts.
Street-to-street fighting and five IS car bombs left at least 34 loyalist fighters dead and were and 150 wounded, a field hospital for the pro-GNA forces said on Sunday. At least 370 loyalist fighters have been killed and nearly 2,000 wounded in Sirte since May.
IS wrested control of Sirte and a swath of the central Libyan coastline last year, prompting concern it was taking advantage of a power vacuum in Libya to expand its influence. Most of the city’s 80,000 residents fled when IS took control.
The battle over Sirte comes as the unity government of prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj struggles to exert authority over the whole country.
Last week, the legislature rejected a unity government. The presidential council led by Sarraj then said it would present the legislature with a new cabinet in a bid to secure its backing.
cw/xx (AFP, Reuters)