Libya Forces Close Ranks to Retake Sirte

Libya Forces Close Ranks to Retake SirteLibya Forces Close Ranks to Retake Sirte

Libyan forces fighting to free the city of Sirte from the self-styled Islamic State terrorists have surrounded a conference hall in the area still held by militants after airstrikes and clashes that killed at least three pro-government fighters, senior officials said.

Forces allied with Libya’s unity government began a campaign two months ago to free Sirte from IS, after militants took advantage of fighting between rival factions to gain territory and control the coastal city last year, Reuters reported.

Three fighters were killed and more than 30 injured during fighting on Friday after IS militants were driven out of the residential 700 district in fierce clashes involving rockets, mortars and gun battles, a senior commander and hospital officials said.

Commanders of the forces, who are mainly from the nearby port city of Misrata, say remaining IS fighters are in an area around Sirte’s Ouagadougou conference complex and a nearby hospital. But snipers and landmines have slowed progress.

Mohamed Gnaidy, intelligence chief for Misrata forces, said the forces had also hit a house where several IS commanders were hiding, but it was unclear how many casualties they suffered or how long it would take to clear out remaining militants in Sirte.

Misrata forces back the UN-supported unity government in Tripoli that is meant to replace two rival administrations and overcome the divisions among Libya’s various armed factions that slowly emerged after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Any eventual fall of Sirte would be a huge blow to IS in Libya, especially as the militant group is also facing setbacks in Iraq, where it has lost the city of Fallujah and other territories to Iraqi forces.