Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Libyan unity government forces advancing on Islamic State stronghold of Sirte

Forces of the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure) had clashed with IS forces at Al-Gardabiya air base just outside of Sirte on Friday.

It has now been confirmed by numerous sources that that the base has been captured as of today. Spokesperson for the brigades, Mohamed Al-Gasri, said that capture of the base was significant strategically as it cut off supply routes to the IS and trapped them in the city.

Three fighters from the brigades were killed and five wounded in the fighting on Saturday.

The base is about 20 kilometers or 12 miles from Sirte. A tweet gives a larger casualty count: "#Libya | At least 4 killed & 16 injured from #GNA Forces after clashes with #IS to retake Al-Qardabiya Airport #Sirte #PT".

IS gained control of Sirte last year and also took control of the air base. The population of Sirte is about 80,000 but it is thought that most have fled. Al-Gasri said that residents who remain would be given a chance to escape before the brigades advanced into residential areas. It remains to be seen if IS will allow them to escape or use them as human shields. Al-Gasri said: "We are concerned now because Daesh (Islamic State) militants are hiding among civilians inside the city."

Al-Gasri claimed that the brigades are operated solely by Libyan senior military leaders and soldiers and denied that there are foreign forces or military experts helping them. This contradicts other reports that claim that UK special forces helped destroy IS suicide vehicles. There are also reports that they are torturing IS by playing loud Bollywood music. Al-Gasri also said that at least 700 IS fighters had been killed since the start of the operation against them.

He asked that the UN arms embargo be lifted so that the brigades could be supplied with more weapons and ammunition. He said that such articles as Night Vision Devices, demining and mine-detecting devices, as well as bullet-proof armour was needed. A recent report also says that the brigades now hold Abu Hadi, Arrawagha, road and Checkpoint 40 which along with seizure of the air base is pushing IS into the city itself.

On the eastern front, the Petroleum Facilities Guard(PFG)which supports the GNA has taken two towns recently. The towns are near the eastern border of territory held by IS. IS is said to have retreated to Harawa just 50 kilometers or 30 miles from Sirte.

The PFG is said to be advancing toward the town.

General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army associated with the rival government of the House of Representatives(HoR) announced weeks ago that he was marching to liberate Sirte but so far has not had any clashes with them. He could attack from the east and south. Such an attack would be disastrous for the IS which is hard put to defend itself on the two fronts already in operation.
Forces loyal to Government of National Accord

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