The Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) forces loyal to the UN--backed Government of National Accord appear about to finish off the remaining Islamic State fighters in the city of Sirte where they are surrounded in a confined area.
The BAM forces report that they have taken control of the key Ouagadougou Center in Sirte that the Islamic State has been using as its headquarters and had so far been able to fend off attacks. The University of Sirte was first to be liberated in fighting today. The Ibn Sina Hospital was also taken. A recent tweet says: Breaking News: "Misrata-led forces are now combing through the Ouagadougou Conference Halls in #Sirte" Most of the BAM forces are brigades from Misrata. Another tweet reports: The first picture of the Ouagadougou center in #Sirte. Still clashes inside and near the center."
However, a fighter plane was lost during the offensive. The IS claimed to have shot it down but it could have crashed due to technical problems as the planes are quite old. The pilot was reported killed. This is the second plane lost over Sirte as an MiG was lost back on June 2 earlier in the offensive.
The US has been aiding the offensive with airstrikes since August 1. On Monday it carried out 8 airstrikes according to the Africa Command. The total now is 28. More strikes have been carried out since then but are not yet tallied. Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord, Faiez Serraj, said that the battle in Sirte should be over in a few weeks. However, with the taking of the headquarters it may be even sooner. Serraj said that foreign ground troops would not be needed. Yet there are already special forces from a number of countries already operating in Libya as this tweet notes: "Serraj to Corriere Della Sera, “We do not need foreign troops on Libyan soil.” US,UK,Italy, France confirm ground troops operate in #Libya." Corriere Della Sera is an Italian newspaper. Serraj said: “Our soldiers had been highly successful in recent times against the men of the Caliphate” Serraj also said that the request for US help came direct from the BAM fighters. Actually, it cane through the GNA.
He thanked Italy for allowing the US to use the Sigonetta air base in Sicily to launch attacks on IS. Although he said that Libya did not need more military help it needed help from Italy to treat those wounded in the offensive as Libyan hospitals were overwhelmed.
dIn response to a request by the UN-backed Government of National Accord, the US planes bombed Islamic State (IS) targets in Sirte. The few remaining IS forces in Sirte are surrounded in an area of about 5 square miles in the center of the city. Although the IS was expected to have been overcome by now, advances have been slow with stiff resistance. The Al-Bunyan Al Marsoos (Solid Structure, BAM) forces are mostly brigades from the city of Misrata and are loyal to the GNA. They have been able to encircle the Islamic State with the help of forces from the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG) who advanced from the east and captured several towns.
PM Faiez Serraj of the GNA said: "The first air strikes were carried out at specific locations in Sirte today causing severe losses to enemy ranks." Peter Cook the Pentagon press secretary said that the strikes did not have an end point at this particular time. The IS have been surrounded and clashing with BAM forces for some time now. It is unlikely they can hold out much longer under US air strikes. The IS has been using civilians as shields. The bombings are quite likely to cause civilian casualties. Sirte is one former home town of former ruler Gadaffi.
This is not the first air strike in Libya. In February attacks were launched against an Islamic State training camp in the western city of Sabratha. Serraj said that the GNA had decided to "activate" its participation in the international coalition against the Islamic State and thus requested the US to carry out targeted air strikes against the IS. He noted that the operations are limited to a specific timetable and were limited to Sirte and its suburbs. Ground support would be limited to technical and logistical help. US special forces are evidently already taking part in the offensive against Sirte carrying out the tasks noted by Serraj. UK special forces are also helping out.
President Obama had authorized the air strikes according to the White House. Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said: "The United States military conducted precision air strikes against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya, to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya. These strikes were authorized by the president following a recommendation from Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford. They are consistent with our approach to combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local forces." Cook said: "GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL (Islamic State) thus far around Sirte, and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance." The spokesperson said that the attacks on Monday targeted a specific tank location, and two IS vehicles that were a threat to the BAM forces. US and Libyan officials both estimate there are only several hundred IS fighters left in Sirte.
At least 350 BAM fighters have been killed since the Sirte offensive began and more than 1,500 wounded. The BAM troops have complained about lack of help from the GNA and international community. While the troops have had air support from their own fighter jets, the planes lack the weapons and technology to make precision strikes. The Pentagon said that the air strikes represented both manned aircraft and drones.
Recently three French special agents were killed when a helicopter crashed or was shot down while allegedly on a reconnaissance mission against the Defend Benghazi Brigades (DBB) a group of Islamists opposed to General Khalifa Haftar commander in chief of the rival House of Representatives (HoR) Libya National Army. Neither Haftar nor the HoR recognize the GNA or its armed forces. There were many protests against the French presence particularly after there were air strikes following the crash that killed a number of DBB forces. The French ambassador was summoned to appear before Serraj. The request to the US may be meant to show the BAM forces that they do have international support and also to show that not just Haftar has international military support but so does the GNA.
Just one year after the EU received permission from the UN Security Council to stop human smuggling out of Libya, it now wants permission from the Council to block illegal arms shipments to the country. The EU top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, urged members to allow EU naval operations in the Mediterranean "to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya by intercepting illegal arms shipments off the coast of Libya."
Mogherini said: "Now once again, we are asking this council to adopt a resolution on authorizing Operation Sophia to enforce the U.N. arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya. I can only hope that this council will once again do the right thing and help us make the Mediterranean a safer place for everyone."
The embargo has been in place since 2011 during the campaign against Gadaffi. However, it is often violated. In the east, General Haftar appears to have received arms and vehicles from the UAE and perhaps Egypt. No doubt the Islamic State and other militias too also receive arms illegally.
The existing naval effort called Operation Sophia would have its mission expanded from intercepting migrant boats to intercepting illegal weapons headed into Libya. The UN will probably allow exceptions to the embargo to allow arms and equipment to go to forces loyal to the Government of National Accord(GNA) who are fighting the Islamic State.
However, the ban will still be in place for arms destined for General Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to him and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). No doubt he will be angry at the EU move. The EU request is expected to come up for a vote in mid-June. Mogherini said: “I can only hope that this Council will once again do the right thing and help us make the Mediterranean a safer place for everyone.”
The PM of the GNA, Faiez Serraj said that the expanded mission for Operation Sophia would bolster his government since weapons come into Libya from the Mediterranean that often end up in the hands of militias beyond his control. While some no doubt go to the Islamic State, others may be going to Haftar who does not recognize the GNA and which the GNA cannot control. He refuses to join a unified command against the Islamic State as requested by the GNA. He also refuses a demand for a ceasefire in Benghazi. So far he has not attacked the Islamic State although he announced he was marching on Sirte weeks ago.
Martin Kobler the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) told the Council that the number of weapons floating around in Libya was more than 3 times its population of six million. He said: “These weapons do not fall from the sky, but come in increasingly through illegal shipments by sea and by land. These shipments must end if there is to be any serious hope of bringing peace to Libya.”
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin said that he had concerns about the way other groups in Libya might react to the Council measure, no doubt a reference to Haftar and his loyalists. Churkin said that Russia was not opposed to allowing Operation Sophia to search for illicit weapons but that they had to be careful about it: "Everything must be done in a way which does not create any suspicions among any of the Libyan parties." This suggests that the searches should be wary of ships going to areas controlled by the rival HoR government.
Churkin said the highest priority should be to have the HoR approve the GNA which he said Russia expects soon. However, there has been no date or plans announced by the UN for such an event as yet. Earlier meetings to have a vote were either without a quorum or disrupted. The UN tried to arrange a meeting in the western city of Ghadames but it never took place.
There was never an explanation as to why it did not happen.
The plan was to have only members of the HoR present who supported the GNA in principle. Perhaps another attempt at this way to avoid having a full HoR meeting will happen soon.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.
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