Sunday, October 16, 2016

Islamic State still holding out in small area of Libyan city of Sirte

In spite of a prolonged offensive started back in May and help from US bombing raids, the Islamic State continues to hold a small area of Sirte Libya, their former stronghold.

Forces from Al Bunyan Al Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) are again making advances into the small area still held by the Islamic State (IS). BAM forces have been supported by US airstrikes since August 1 in an operation called Odyssey Lightning. The operation has been extended through October. There were also airstrikes by GNA planes as well as fire from tanks.
Last Sunday alone the US carried out 20 airstrikes. Pentagon spokesperson, Captain Jeff Davis said: "Every one of the strikes we do is based on a request from them, and we are down now into the last, densest part of the city. As they get to the dense areas, it's very hard to take out these sniper positions with anything other than air strikes." Since it began its operation US warplanes, drones and helicopters have carried out more than 200 strikes. Many of the strikes are launched from the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship just off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranian.
The militants are holding out in an area called Manara. Once this area is cleared, Misrata commanders said that the IS fighters would be defeated. Mohamed Al-Ghasri a spokesperson for BAM said: “This is the end for them. They have no other solutions, so that’s why they are fighting fiercely to stay in Manara.” The IS now controls a strip that is less than a kilometer long. However, weeks ago the final push against the IS was announced. The Sirte offensive so far has killed more than 450 BAM fighters and wounded about 2,500 more.
Somewhat surprisingly, a senior military officer from Misrata was critical of the US airstrikes claiming their aim is to prolong the offensive against the IS in the city. Spokesperson for Misrata Military Council Brigadier Ibrahim Bait Al-Mal said on TV: “The airstrikes were useless and inaccurate and their aim is clear to all, We can go without the US airstrikes from the beginning, but the government wants an endless war with limited airstrikes.” Al-Mal said that the US could through bombing end the battle within 48 hours. While this may be true it would involve horrendous civilian casualties and destruction. The air strikes happen on the order of BAM forces apparently, who do not want a huge number of civilian casulaties. They have themselves decided for pauses in the battle after suffering heavy casualties. Without the airstrikes and the help of a few special forces on the ground from the UK and the US, casualties would probably be much higher and the offensive less advanced. A more common complaint of those on the ground is that the bombings did not come sooner and some have expressed thanks for the support of the bombings and the special forces. Al-Mal provides no evidence that the strikes prolong the offensive. Pointing out that the US could end the offensive sooner does not show that the actual bombing prolonged the offensive.


No comments: