Libyan forces recapture coastal border of Sirte from Daesh
The inside of a destroyed mosque in Sirte, Libya. (AFP/File)
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Naval forces loyal to the Libyan unity government have recaptured coastal areas of the port city of Sirte from militants.
“Our forces control the entire coast of Sirte. They (Daesh militants) will not be able to flee by sea,” Rida Issa, the naval commander for central Libya, said Thursday.
Fierce clashes continued between pro-government forces and Daesh in the central parts of Sirte, a major city in northern Libya, which is regarded as the most important stronghold for the militant group outside Iraq and Syria.
“We think that Sirte will be liberated within days not weeks,” said Mohamed al-Gasri, a military spokesman based in the western city of Misrata, adding that fighting was underway near a major conference hall, where Daesh holds religious instruction sessions.
“We think that Sirte will be liberated within days not weeks … The Daesh snipers are a concern to us because they shoot from long distances and that has hindered us in the battle inside the city,” Gasri added.
Libyan forces have already seized control over some key areas on the outskirts of Sirte including an air base, several military camps and a roundabout where Daesh had previously hung the bodies of executed enemies.
Dozens have been killed in less than a month of fighting. The full recapture of Sirte would be a major boost to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which has come to office through support from the United Nations.
On Tuesday, the pro-government forces liberated Nawfiliyah, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Sirte, from Daesh. That came a day after Libyans captured the nearby town of Ben Jawad from the militants.
The GNA had set up an operations room to command the battle against Daesh on the coastal stretch between the eastern town of Ajdabiya and Sirte.
Daesh has been taking advantage of the chaos embroiling Libya since the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi back in 2011. Gaddafi was killed later.
The oil-rich North African country has had two rival governments since 2014, when politician Khalifa Ghweil and his self-proclaimed government seized control of the capital, Tripoli, with the support of militia groups, forcing the internationally-recognized government to move to the country’s remote eastern city of Tobruk.
The two governments achieved a consensus on forming a unity government, the GNA, last December after months of UN-brokered talks in Tunisia and Morocco to restore order to the country.