(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Libyan and US officials confirmed last week that victory against ISIS in Sirte is near. Only a few ISIS fighters remain in a one square kilometre area, and Libyan soldiers on the front lines have reported hearing ISIS fighters speak with Tunisian and Egyptian accents.
The battle against ISIS in Sirte has dragged on for months due to unexpected tactics used by the terrorist group. Government of National Accord (GNA) loyal forces have had to take extra precautions while advancing on ISIS to avoid civilian casualties. ISIS fighters frequently use suicide bombs, mines, snipers and booby traps in retaliation against Libyan soldiers.
“It has been the same situation as in Iraq and Syria. They (ISIS) are using tunnels and using civilians as human shields,” said Mohamed Gnaidy head of intelligence for the Libyan forces.
“They are professional fighters. Their objective is to kill as many of us as possible,” he added.
On August 1, the Libyan army received arial assistance from the US military in the form of airstrikes targeting ISIS fighters in Sirte. The US airstrikes and aerial surveillance enabled the Libyan brigades to make major advances against ISIS.
“We faced unbelievable resistance. They won’t leave their posts even when houses are collapsing on them,” said Osama Issa, a 37-year-old businessman fighting with the Libyan brigades in Sirte.
“They know they will die anyway so they fight well.”
Liberating Sirte from ISIS will devastate the terrorist group, which is also struggling to hold on to territory under its control in the levant.
For the GNA, victory against ISIS in Sirte will provide the fledgling government with the credibility it needs to lead the war-torn country to peace, security and stability.
However, there have also been great losses on the Libyan side. Close to 660 soldiers have been killed and about 3,000 wounded since the offensive against ISIS was launched in May.
A Libyan commander estimated that at least 400 ISIS fighters managed to escape Sirte, raising concerns that the terrorist group might try to establish a new base in Libya or elsewhere in North Africa or even Europe.
Asruf el Qat, a soldier fighting alongside the Libyan forces, said, “We hear them at night shouting to us, telling us they are coming for us. We advance, they throw grenades. It’s a dirty war.”
“Sirte was supposed to be a fallback from Iraq and Syria. That’s now gone,” said Geoff Porter, a consultant at North Africa Risk Consulting. “Strategically, the Islamic State could point to Sirte and tell its followers that it really was global and growing. It can’t do that anymore.”
“Maybe it will take a week or two from what I can see now” before ISIS is eliminated, said Salah Al Houti, a 22 year old student fighting with the Libyan forces. “They stocked supplies and food underground.”
ISIS moved into Sirte, which had a population of 80,000, in 2015 and managed to establish a stronghold in the coastal city. ISIS had aims to expand its rule across Libya and eventually to Europe.
The terrorist group was able to make its way into Sirte after Libya fell into political chaos following the 2011 uprising that brought down the Gaddafi regime.