(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Government of National Accord (GNA) forces announced on Thursday that Sirte will be liberated in two days after the Libyan army advanced to the centre of ISIS stronghold and the navy took full control of the coast.
“The battle for Sirte has been won by our forces, the die is cast, ISIS militants have completely collapsed and we will free the city in a matter of two days,” said Mohamed al-Ghasri, a spokesman for the Libyan army.
Operation Strong Foundation forces (Alinyan Almarsous) mounted an attack on Sirte from three directions on Thursday, and took control of Zafarana Square, where ISIS militants have been accused of executing at least 49 people.
In addition, the Libyan air force carried out several airstrikes on Ouagadougou conference hall, which is a major landmark in the city, and was used as the administrative centre of ISIS.
Ali bin Gharbiya, a commander in the Libyan army, said in an audio message posted on the operations room Facebook page that the victory against ISIS militants in Sirte was quick, “except for a little bit of anti-aircraft fire, they immediately withdrew.”
On Wednesday, the military made significant advances against ISIS militants in Sirte, capturing the Al-Ghuribat bridge, Abu Hadi intersection, and the Taqrift and Al Jalet military camps.
From the operations room in the east, Petroleum Forces Guards (PFG) who are loyal to the unity government took over the town of Harawa, 70 kilometres east of Sirte.
In addition, the Libyan navy stated that they had taken full control over the coast of Sirte.
“Our forces control the entire coast of Sirte,” said Rida Issa, a naval commander for the Libyan army. “They (ISIS) will not be able to flee by sea.”
Al-Ghasri pointed out that while ISIS has been essentially defeated in Sirte, the extremist group may still attempt to carry out tactical strikes targeting the military.
“Snipers are a concern to us because they shoot from long distances and that has hindered us in the battle inside the city,” he said.
A spokesman from the hospital in misrata said that over 15 soldiers were killed and 95 wounded since Wednesday’s battle against ISIS militants.
The hospital in Misrata has reported that it is overflowing with wounded soldiers, and that some soldiers had to be flown to Turkey or Italy for medical treatment. The GNA has called on the international community to provide medical aid “for our heroes at the front lines.”
Ahmed Hadiya, a media official for the military, said that during the GNA’s month long offensive against ISIS militants in Sirte, 130 soldiers were killed and over 400 had been wounded. Among those killed in the fight against ISIS were two former government ministers, Mohammed Swalem and Abdul Rahman Keesah.
A full victory over Sirte would signify a major accomplishment for the new unity government, as it has sought to unify Libya’s various armed factions into a unified army under a centralized military command structure.
Moreover, the absence of General Khalifa Haftar from the offensive in Sirte could potentially undermine his efforts at trying to present himself as Libya’s saviour and only force strong enough to expel terrorism. Haftar may have underestimated the new unity government’s capability to rally Libyan armed groups to fight against a common enemy.
ISIS militants were able to take advantage of Libya’s ongoing political turmoil since the ousting of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and in late April, the extremist group overran the Abu Grein checkpoint near Libya’s third largest city Misrata, prompting the GNA to launch an offensive against their stronghold in Sirte.