Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Forces loyal to Libyan unity government continue to encircle the Islamic State in Sirte

The media office of the Albunyan Almarsoos (Solid Structure) that is in charge of the battle in Sirte against the Islamic State, announced that 10 of its forces were killed and seven injured in a suicide car bomb attack by ISIS in Abu Grein.

The report said that the attack on the Abu Grein police station was at dawn on Thursday. The killed and injured were from Abu Grein, Misrata, and Sebha. Abu Grein was liberated almost three weeks ago by Solid Structure forces, mostly militia from Misrata. The town is about 140 km west and south of Sire. On Twitter there is a video of the event. The attack shows that there are sleeper cells of IS ready to launch attacks even though the IS no longer controls significant territory. One can expect that IS will resort to attacks in major cities and launch guerrilla-type warfare rather than holding territory.
Forces loyal to the GNA claim they have consolidated their siege around the Islamic State in Sirte. The IS controls only a 15 to 20 square mile area in central Sirte. The consolidation is for a final battle to take Sirte. The IS has been launching counterattacks with suicide bombers that are taking a heavy toll both within Sirte and outside as in the Abu Grein attack. Several bomb attacks have been foiled. One attack killed three people at a field hospital. The anti-IS troops have captured an ammunition stockpile and supposedly fended off an IS attack to retake the port. After losing the port, the IS cannot be resupplied by sea.
Twitter is a virtual battlefield as IS and the Misrata militia trade competing photos and videos showing that they control the port. One tweet shows the Solid Structure forces at the port: #Libya : @centre_ly released a video, dating as of today of #Sirte harbour. Troops seem to be at east of the harbour, A commentator notes that the IS video could be at the west end of the harbour. Often photos or videos have no date and are from another time.
The Solid Structure forces appear to be holding on to their gains. The Solid Structure operations room said:“Our forces drove back an advance in which Daesh used mortar bombs and one tank along with snipers located on high buildings, Our forces continued targeting IS positions in the vicinity of Ouagadougou conference centre, The Libyan air force carried out a number of sorties, while engineers continued sweeping the liberated areas of landmines and explosives.”The Ouagadougou conference center is a three-hectare area of sprawling halls built by Muammar Gaddafi to host African Union meetings. It is used as a headquarters by the IS. The Solid Structure coalition has made great gains since the offensive started early last month.
On the eastern front, the Petroleum Facilities Guard has also advanced capturing several towns in the eastern part of IS territory including Ben Jawad, Nofiya, and Harawa. Meanwhile Khalifa Haftar has yet to engage in the battle for Sirte even though he announced over three weeks ago that he was marching to liberate the city. Instead he has been attacking Derna and the Shura Council that was instrumental in liberating Derna from the IS. Haftar has been criticized by many for the resulting civilian casualties.
Military officials told the Libya Channel that IS is launching vigorous counter attacks, with suicide bombers, booby traps, and snipers, that has stalled the advance of Sold Structure troops. As the Abu Grein attack shows the IS can still strike far behind the front lines. Medical officials says that so far a total of 145 pro-GNA troops have been killed and about 500 injured. On Tuesday, five were said to be killed and 37 wounded in a counter-attack.
Spokesperson for the Solid Structure, Brigadier General Mohamed al-Gasri, urged the international community to help with the wounded. Some flights containing the wounded have not been allowed to land in Europe and there are complaints about treatment in Tunisia and elsewhere. Al-Gasri said: “Our sons are hospitalized and their condition is pitiful, but there is no support from the international community on whose behalf we fight this war>”
Haftar rejects the GNA and its officials. He refuses to join a unified command saying:“Firstly, We have no links with Mr Seraj and the Presidential Council which he leads is not recognized by the parliament,
Secondly, on this unified command center, I would like to stress that Mr Serraj relies on militia and we refuse them. An army cannot unify with militias so they must be dismantled. It’s unthinkable to work with these armed factions,”

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