Friday, December 9, 2016

Sirte offensive clears Libyan city of Islamic State fighters

(December 5) Several reports indicate that the Islamic State(IS) has been completely driven from their former stronghold of Sirte. The other day the group controlled only two blocks and about 50 buildings in the city.

The Guardian reports Rida Issa, spokesperson for the Misrata brigades, part of the BAM (Al Bunyan Al-Marsous) forces, as claiming that they had taken the last IS held buildings in the city. The Daily Star reports Issa as saying: "Our forces have total control of Sirte. Our forces saw Daesh (ISIS) totally collapse."
The announcement may be a bit premature. A tweet claims: "Spox of Media Ops of forces fighting IS n Sirte-Ahmed Hadia-denies to BBC that city completely fallen, tells me military ops ongoing #Libya". This is obviously a different spokesperson. Perhaps there are still mopping up operations going on. Another tweet reports a casualty: "One killed in sirt today from albunyanAli bin rajab. Wounded twice b4"
Another article claims that the BAM forces were close to securing the area where the IS had been holding out but that there were reports of continuing skirmishes. In 2015 the IS had taken control of Sirte and an area extending about 150 miles along the Mediterranean coastline. The BAM forces began an offensive to retake Sirte back in May. Since August 1st they have been aided by U.S. airstrikes, about 470 in all. There are also a small number of U.S. special forces helping out.
The article also notes BAM spokesperson Rida Issa as saying that BAM forces had taken control of all of the Ghiza Bahriya neighborhood where the IS forces had been holding out. However, it also said the statement could not be immediately verified and that there was no official announcement that Sirte had been taken. One field commander claimed there was still some fighting in Ghiza Bahriya.
Earlier 34 IS fighters had surrendered to Libyan forces including two senior commanders according to officials. Mohamed Lajnef a staff member of a local field hospital said six women and 2 children had also surrendered. He claimed the three BAM fighters had been killed and 17 wounded. Earlier, several women had carried out suicide attacks as they were granted safe passage.
While the defeat of the IS in Sirte will leave it without any permanent control of territory it is no doubt still present as sleeper cells in many areas of the country ready to engage in terror attacks. The fighting has taken a heavy toll on BAM forces mostly from Misrata brigades. More than 700 have been killed and over 3,200 wounded. Many of the brigades are anti-Haftar and may perhaps turn their attention to battle with his forces if necessary. There have been recent clashes in Tripoli as well and some of the brigade members may join to help out Islamist groups in conflict with other militia in Tripoli if clashes resume.