(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
The US Department of State is “watching very carefully” for any regrouping of ISIS militants outside of Sirte.
The terrorist group 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.
Libyan forces launched an offensive against ISIS in May called Albunyan Almarsous.
ISIS fighters have now been cornered into a small area in Sirte’s city centre, not too far from the city’s shores.
A US led airstrike campaign, which began in August 1, enabled the Libyan brigades to make significant advances in their fight against ISIS.
“They have made a great deal of progress, but the fight has been quite severe and the Libyan forces have taken a lot of casualties,” said Marie Richards, the Department of State’s deputy counterterrorism coordinator for regional and multilateral affairs.
“We are very confident that in a short period they will be able to eliminate the threat coming out of Sirte.”
However, it is very likely that ISIS fighters will try to regroup as many of them managed to flee Sirte just before the Libyan fighters from Misrata began their fight against the terrorist group. “We are watching very carefully where they go,” Richards added.
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.
“ISIS is also declining in Iraq and in Syria. In that area but also in Libya we are seeing the fighters being squeezed,” explained Richards.
Asruf el Qat, a soldier loyal to the Libyan government, said, “We hear them (ISIS) 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.”