Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Forces loyal to Libyan unity government inch forward against Islamic State in Sirte

Forces loyal to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA), the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure, or BAM), move slightly further into Islamic State controlled territory in the center of the city of Sirte.

On Thursday there was heavy fighting with dozens killed on both sides. While the offensive against the Islamic State advanced rapidly in May and June, in July the BAM forces have met fierce resistance as the remaining IS fighters are encircled in a central section of Sirte. Although their headquarters have been attacked, they are not yet occupied by the BAM fighters. The BAM forces are facing heavy losses from snipers, suicide bombers, and mines every time they attempt to advance further.
Sirte is the last major city in Libya under the control of the Islamic State. It was captured last year along with a considerable stretch of coastal areas about 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the east and west, in some places extending a considerable distance to the south. However, that territory is all gone and IS now has control of just a few square kilometers within Sirte itself. The BAM forces were helped by forces from the Petroleum Forces Guard who advanced from the east and captured several towns. For some time, the IS had control of the eastern city of Derna but lost it to rival jihadists earlier this year.
Most of the BAM forces are composed of brigades from the city of Misrata. The BAM group said that they had captured a hotel on the eastern front line that had been used by IS snipers, and that they had taken control of part of the "Dollar" neighborhood. The group also claimed that they had foiled three attempts at car bomb attacks and also destroyed an armored vehicle. A tank belonging to BAM was apparently blown up.
BAM said they counted 50 bodies of IS fighters. The Misrata general hospital said that at least 25 brigade members were killed and 200 wounded. A BAM spokesperson said that since the offensive began in May more than 300 BAM fighters have been killed with more than 1,300 wounded.
A recent casualty of the Sirte offensive was TV reporter Abdulgader Fassouk, who was killed by an IS sniper. Another journalist Mohamed Aqub was wounded. The Libyan Centre for the Freedom of the Press called Fassouk "a brave journalist" and had just recently spoken of the risk to war correspondents and the lack of physical protection and safety equipment in Libya. Over a week ago it was predicted that IS resistance in Sirte would likely end in a few days but there is as yet no sign of that happening.