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GNA in final phase of defeating ISIS in Sirte

(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)

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Libyan forces loyal to the Libyan unity Government (GNA) say they have finally reached the end of their battle with ISIS. After three months of intense battle against the extremist group, the Libyan army is planning and preparing for the end of ISIS in Sirte.

Ahmed Alramali, a commander for the Libyan forces, said, “The fact that they (ISIS) are using mines to such an extent shows they are weak now. This is their last chance.”

ISIS moved into Sirte after taking advantage of Libya’s chaotic state after the 2014 civil war. It was only in May of this year that Libyan forces, made up of brigades who are mostly from Misrata, began their offensive against ISIS and have not backed down since.

However, Libyan forces took a pause in their offensive on several occasions due to a lack of resources. Misrata’s hospital, which has been heavily used by the Libyan army to treat injured soldiers, was often overwhelmed and its resources exhausted during intense battles against ISIS. Oftentimes, Libyan troops had to take a pause during battle until the hospital was able to clear patients, slowing down the liberation of Sirte.

All the brigades fighting ISIS answer to command centers in Misrata and Sirte, and are all loyal to the Libyan unity Government in Tripoli.

Since most of the fighters are not adequately equipped or trained for intense battles, the frontlines have suffered resulting in slow progress.

Ismail Shukri, the head of military intelligence for the Libyan forces, said soldiers found ISIS’s strategy for a tactical retreat by attacking the Libyans with car bombs.

“When our forces gather, Daesh (ISIS) fighters stage a retreat in order to send a car bomb. When our fighters advance on foot they have been an easy target. Daesh have relied on mines, snipers and shelling, but they never use defensive lines to directly engage,” said Shukri.

The US airstrike campaign, that started on August first helped the Libyans make significant advances. However, Libyan fighters say the airstrikes were too late and were not as intense as they needed them to be.

According to a Libyan fighter, ISIS has resorted to moving its supplies using wheelbarrows as their vehicles were targets of the US airstrikes.

Some requests for airstrikes might have been denied for the risk of civilians being harmed, said Ibrahim Baitulmal, the chair of Misrata’s military council.

Though almost all of Sirte’s population is reported to have fled the city soon after ISIS took control, there are reports that close to 50 hostages are being held by ISIS in Sirte. The reports also say that some of the hostages are likely foreigners.

From the estimated 2,000-5,000 ISIS fighters who were in Sirte before May, hundreds of them were killed, many escaped before the fighting began, and no more than 15 were arrested. Not one of the arrested were key figures or commanders from ISIS.

One of the Libyan fighters said, “we want to fight to defend our religion and our land. These people (ISIS) are foreigners who came from outside and distorted our religion. But above all we want to free the people of Sirte from repression.”

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