Fighters allied to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) are making preparations for the final battle against the Islamic State in their last stronghold, the city of Sirte.
The last of the Islamic State (IS) fighters left in Sirte are surrounded in an area of about 5 square miles. The Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure or BAM) forces are mostly brigades from the city of Misrata. The GNA government said in a statement: "The countdown of the final stage of the military operations against Daesh has started. The operation's leaders held intensive meetings to prepare for the final and decisive battles to eradicate the Daesh gang from the city of Sirte." Daesh is the Arabic name for the Islamic State.
The IS has occupied Sirte for over a year.The offensive against Sirte began in May and the city was entered in June but since then progress has met fierce resistance. Almost a month ago it was announced that IS resistance in the city was expected to end in a few days. The IS still hold their headquarters in the Ouagdougou Conference center. However, since Monday, at the request of the GNA, the U.S. has carried out air strikes that have further weakened the IS defences. During the operation to liberate Sirte, about 300 BAM forces have been killed and 1,800 wounded.
The GNA air force needs help from the west so that it could become more efficient. If it had been strengthened as has happened to the rival air force of Khalifa Haftar, the GNA could probably have already defeated the IS on their own. Perhaps the GNA wants to show they can enlist foreign help as Haftar has had from France, UAE, and Egypt.The Bunyan Marsoos news media office said that the US carried out four air strikes today against sniper positions. They deny some reports that claim some BAM fighters had been killed or injured. Some speculate that the US attacks are meant to drive remaining IS fighters into the conference center and then subject the headquarters to a devastating attack. UK special forces are reported to be helping out in the offensive. There is video footage of what the US has called Operation Odyssey Lightning here.
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.
A spokesperson for the forces attacking Sirte from the east, Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure) Mohammed Al-Ghasri confirms that Misrata-led forces forces from the west and Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) from the east have now seized the Harawa district to the east of Sirte.
Al-Ghasri boasted: “The battle for Sirte has been won by our forces, the die is cast, IS militants have completely collapsed and we will free the city in a matter of two days.”
The forces entered into Sirte on Wednesday capturing several military camps including Al-Jalit and Tagreft. They also took control of the Buhadi districts and the Zafaran roundabout where IS hung opponents.
It is only 5 kilometers, about three miles, to the city center. The Misrata militias from the west have now joined up with the PFG forces from the east.
A tweet also announced the takeover of the town ofHarawa:"LibyaschannelEN @LibyaschannelEN #BunyanMarsus Ops Room announces liberation of #Harawa almost exactly one year after the village was seized by #IS."
The Solid Structure forces are loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
There has been air support for some operations. Inside the city of Sirte the Solid Structure forces are advancing to take the Ougadougou Conference Hall one of the headquarters of the Islamic State. A recent tweet says: Air force bombs #ISIS targets near Ouagadougou Conference Hall as ground forces r preparing to launch a military offensive 2retake the hall.
There have been severe casualties to the Solid Structure forces. A tweet reports: "15 killed + 95 wounded Yesterday vs #daesh #misrata_hospital." There is a dire shortage of medical supplies. In one city not too far from Misrata, Bani Walid, a tweet says the hospital is virtually deserted: " Ali al-Nagrat: Bani Walid hospital is almost deserted because it lacks equipment and medicine". Another tweet has the Presidential Council (PC) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) pleading with the international community for help:"#GNA PC says int'l community has moral responsibility to provide urgent medical aid to forces fighting #IS in #Sirte."
Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) in a recent news release noted the progress against Daesh or the Islamic State and commended those who were fighting against terrorism in all parts of Libya "including in Benghazi and Derna".
Kobler asked for a ceasefire in Benghazi which Khalifa Haftar, commander in chief of the Libyan Natioal Army (LNA) ignored him.
The terrorists in Derna that Haftar is fighting with his Operation Volcano are the Shura Council of Derna Jihadists who deny they have any connection to Al Qaeda and were instrumental in driving the Islamic State out of Derna and surrounding area. Haftar has been bombing Derna for days. I enclose a photo of some of the damage. He characterizes the Council members as part of Al Qaeda.
Events have moved quickly since Kobler's news release and the Islamic State will soon hold no territory in Libya. No doubt there are many sleeper cells throughout the country who will wage terror attacks.
The Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) has yet to vote confidence in the GNA.
Although numerous meetings have been called to do so, they were either lacking a quorum, or were disrupted. No vote has been taken.
A tweet announces that a meeting for a vote will be held on Monday: "Mohamed Eljarh@Eljarh HoR session on Monday announced by Agilah Saleh in #Tobruk. Unlikely that pro-GNA HoR members would join him for the session. #Libya."
Saleh is sanctioned by the EU for actions impeding the implementation of the Libya Political Agreement (LPA). An alleged majority of the HoR have agreed to the GNA in principle. It may be that they fear if they come to Tobruk they will again not be allowed to vote.
It is not at all clear why the HoR is unable to provide security for the vote.
This sets a terrible example for the future role of the HoR as the legislature of the GNA.
Forces, mostly Misrata militia, loyal to the UN-brokered Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) have now entered into the city of Sirte, the last city stronghold of the Islamic State in Libya.
Apparently many fighters have already left the city. However, there are also unconfirmed reports that Islamic State fighters have also left the town of Harawa on the east to retreat to Sirte. This would allow the advancing Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) on the eastern front to advance quite close to Sirte.
A tweet said: "Unconfirmed news that #Isis has abandoned Harawa to defend #Sirte. Help in verifying this welcome."
Brigadier Gen. Mohammed al-Ghasri, told the Associated Press that a key bridge within the city where extremists used to hang bodies of their enemies has been seized.
The forces are only 5 kilometers or 3 miles from the center of Sirte. Al-Ghasri said that fighting on Wednesday killed five of his forces and wounded another 25.
An anonymous official said that the advancing forces had met little resistance but there were roadside bombs. There have been air strikes ahead of the advance.
An official claimed that the forces were closing in on the Ouagadougou convention center, which is one of the headquarters of the IS. They are also moving towards the port. Earlier, the forces of Solid Structure as they are called took control of the Tagrift military camp south of Sirte. They are also reported to have captured the Al-Jalet military camp and the Au Hadi roundabout which is immediately south of Sirte.
Meanwhile, the forces of Khalifa Haftar have yet to engage with those of the Islamic State even though he announced that he was going to march to liberate Sirte about three weeks ago. Instead he is busy attacking the city of Derna in what he calls Operation Volcano.
The city is defended by the Shura Council of Derna Jihadists. Haftar insists that they are Al Qaeda although the group denies they have any connections with Al Qaeda.
The Council was instrumental in clearing the Islamic State from Derna and the surrounding area. Surprisingly officials from the House of Representatives (HoR) government to whom Haftar is supposedly loyal are operating within the city. Haftar has been bombing the city and the port for days now. The UN doesn't notice apparently.
Haftar has refused to join with the central command of the GNA. He rejects the GNA and will not recognize it until it is given a vote of confidence by the HoR. However, every meeting to take a vote has lacked a quorum or has been disrupted. It is not clear when another meeting will happen.
Forces from Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure) continued their advance on Sirte the stronghold of the Islamic State.
They have taken control of Al-Saadi military camp just south of Sirte. The forces, mostly from the city of Misrata have gradually encircled IS in the city of Sirte cutting off escape routes. The camp was originally the HQs of Gaddafi's slain son Al-Saadi. Sirte was a home town of Gaddafi. In Sunday clashes Misrata Central Hospital reports that 3 of the GNA-loyal forces were killed and another 13 wounded.
Just two days ago the Solid Structure forces captured the Al-Gardbiya air base just 20 kilometers from the city. More than 17 IS fighters were killed and many weapons and ammunition were seized. Reports indicate that 4 fighters from Solid Structure were killed and 14 others injured.
ISIL maintains that it had repelled an attack and killed nine of the Misrata militia. Even now they are making claims that they still occupy the base showing photos of it. The problem is according to critics that the photos are old and taken long before the attacks. However, there are many reports now and photos of the Misrata militia at the base. IS fighters are said to have retreated to the north towards Sirte.
A top Misratan commander, Omar Al-Hassan of the 166 brigade was shot and killed in an apparent ambush south of Sirte. His brigade is backed by newly arrived reinforcements from the south. The brigades were able to overrun "Saad katiba" camp at Bohadi. There are reports that hundreds of families in Sirte are pleading for help. Some IS fighters may be fleeing south. Six Sudanese, suspected of being IS members were arrested in the town of Hun.
Mohamed al-Gasri spokesperson for Solid Structure claimed that their fighters had killed at least 700 IS fighters since the offensive against them began in April. He said that while significant gains had been made in and around Sirte, that IS still had considerable power within Sirte itself.
The PM of the UN-backed Government of National Accord claimed that Libyans would themselves eradicate the Islamic State but that they needed ammunition and military equipment from the international community to help them do so. A number of countries already have special forces in Libya including the UK, US, Jordan, Italy, and France.
On the eastern front, the Petroleum Forces Guard are advancing toward the town of Harawa not far from Sirte. Meanwhile, General Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, who announced weeks ago he was marching towards Sirte to liberate it, has concentrated on fighting militants in Benghazi. The UN asked for a ceasefire in Benghazi during Ramadan but Haftar refused.
He is also continuing with his Operation Volcano against fighters of the Derna Shura Council who were instrumental in driving IS from Derna and its surroundings. Haftar has been bombing Derna for days.
The latest bombings have been near the public stadium at the western entrance of Derna. The UN has said nothing so far about these actions.
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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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