Pro-GNA forces advance further into last stronghold of Islamic State in Libya, Sirte

The forces of the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Foundation) mostly militia from the city of Misrata, are advancing further into the city of Sirte after surrounding the remaining Islamic State (IS) fighters in the center of the city.

The IS headquarters at Ouagadougou Center is about 3 kilometers from the checkpoint from which Salem Taleb can observe it through his binoculars, but IS fighters are just 1.5 kilometers away in three buildings. Taleb belongs to the Third Military Force one of the Misrata brigades. Taleb said: “They have rockets, snipers and they use suicide cars. They currently attack at night because it’s a full moon." The checkpoint is south of Sirte on the main road to Benghazi. The militia are told to stay put and ensure that no IS fighters escape from Sirte.
A commander of the Solid Foundation said: “IS is trapped in a 25-square-kilometre area in Sirte. They can’t leave. We’ve decided to lay siege to them until they run out of ammunition.This strategy will cost less lives and less destruction than launching a massive offensive with airstrikes”.
The head of the Misrata military council estimates that there are only about 500 IS fighters left in Sirte. He estimates that there were about 2,500 there before the offensive. Other sources in the military estimate that around 800 to 1000 fighters have been killed.
While the Misrata forces occupy some of the port, the IS still have access to part of it. Reda Essa, local commander of the coastguard says: “We have two tugboats with machine guns on them, a 16-metre boat with light weapons and two Zodiac boats to protect the port. We have no help from other Libyan cities, not even from Tripoli”. There seems to be little help given those fighting against IS. The international community has always stressed the danger that IS in Libya poses for much of the EU but does nothing to help out those fighting to eliminate the threat. Essa said the the Solid Foundation forces were advancing quite cautiously: “The pro-government forces are advancing cautiously because ISIS fighters are barricaded inside homes and we are trying to avoid using heavy artillery to spare civilians who could also be inside,”
Planes trying to fly wounded to EU countries for treatment have not been allowed to land. Losses to the Solid Foundation forces have been more than 200 killed and more than 500 wounded. Another report claims that losses were 170 fighters killed and more than 700 injured. Description of the terrible conditions in the Misrata hospital can be found here.
Although a daily report is sent to the Presidency Council (PC) of the GNA, mostly brigades themselves decide what to do. Rami Ragou, chief of a brigade from Nalut, which protects the Zaafran roundabout at the west entrance of Sirte, says he makes the decisions with respect to his brigade. He says that his brigade will soon run out of ammunition: “I haven’t received anything. We’ll have to go back to Nalut for ammunition.” Most fighters including Ragou's men lack basic equipment such as helmets or bullet-proof jackets. The only real help the Solid Foundation troops receive is from a handful of US and UK special operations forces who are working with them.
In recent gains, fighters on Tuesday took the Sirte Radio, the Electricity Company, the Baher neighborhood and parts of the 700 neighborhood. Snipers and suicide bombers make any advance difficult and costly. The spokesperson for the Solid Foundation forces, Brigadier Mohammed All-Gosri complained about the lack of support for the offensive: "We are fighting ISIS on behalf of the world, but they care about Syria and Iraq and ignore Libya." Al-Gosri noted that his troops faced professional IS snipers while lacking helmets or bullet proof vests. On Tuesday alone 36 fighers were killed and 159 injured as they advanced in Sirte. Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General said that no weapons would be provided to forces fighting the IS in Sirte until the UN was sure of the loyalty of the forces involved. Apparently losing many lives while attacking Sirte is not a sufficient test.
The offensive against Sirte was an operation not run by the UN or the GNA but which the GNA had to accept since the Misrata militia support the GNA. The GNA also had to respond to Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA) who was also pledging to liberate Sirte but refused to join a unified command with the PC as commander in chief unlike the Misrata militia. The UN and the international community want to be in control of events but they have not been able to control this offensive and so they will help it as little as they can, although the special forces involved may develop relations with the militia that the international community may find useful.

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