Τετάρτη, 15 Ιουνίου 2016

Libyan forces claim Sirte port captured from Isis as street battles rage

Libyan government soldiers
Government advance succeeds in seizing key areas after month-long campaign, leaving jihadis pinned down in city centre.
Libyan government forces fighting to oust Islamic State from Sirte, its last stronghold in the north African nation, have taken the strategic port area and pinned militants into a small part of the city centre.

After capturing the airport last week and the seaport on Friday, troops loyal to the UN-backed unity government, mostly militias from Misrata in western Libya, were battling for control of the massive Ougadougou conference centre on Saturday. Artillery and mortar rounds have been hammering the building, with Isis snipers shooting back.
Units from Misrata have pushed Isis back more than 100 miles, last week entering Sirte itself, at a cost of 105 dead and more than 500 wounded.
US and UK forces are providing logistics and intelligence support in the battle for the city, the hometown of former ­dictator Muammar Gaddafi, where the militant fighters have collapsed far more quickly than expected.
“The British and US experts are helping us with logistical and intelligence to deal with Daesh suicide bombers and tactical and strategic planning,” the Libyan army spokesman, Brigadier-General Mohammed al-Ghasri, told AP, using a common Arabic name for Isis.
Isis fighters were expected to put up a bitter fight for control after the group’s western Sabratha base was destroyed by militias and US airstrikes in February and local forces took over its base at Derna, in north-east Libya, last year.
Just two months ago western experts warned that the group had expanded its control in Libya, had up to 6,000 fighters, and could even pose a threat to neighbouring countries.
However, the militants have crumbled so rapidly in the face of the latest offensive that both the west and Libya’s UN-backed unity government are questioning the former assessments of its strength. “The battle wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be,” a government official said. “Maybe we exaggerated their numbers.”
About two-thirds of Sirte’s 80,000 inhabitants are thought to have fled since Isis took control, but the city’s rapid collapse suggests that the group made little headway winning the confidence of those who remained.
Government troops managed to repel an Isis assault to take back the port, and say they are now bracing for street-to-street fighting over the final two square miles, through roads likely to be laced with mines and booby traps.
“We are fighting between houses, on the streets, and we won’t back down before we eliminate them,” said one government soldier.
It has been a grim advance so far. In the two years Isis has occupied Sirte, it has carved out a gruesome reputation. In February last year it carried out the ritual beheading of 21 Christians on the Sirte waterfront, then posted the film online. Troops have found the handcuffed bodies of murdered militants at barracks in the city, AP reported. They had been shot in the head and were possibly fighters who wanted to flee. Isis leaders are believed to have fled the city to regroup.
Even if the final battles are hard, Isis has lost almost all of the self-proclaimed caliphate that, until last month, stretched for 140 miles along the coast and deep into the Sirte basin oilfields.
“Libyans prove they know how to wage war,” tweeted the US envoy to Libya, Jonathan Winer, yesterday. “Hope they also wage peace and win that too.”
Winer’s caution is well-placed. The coalition of forces attacking Sirte – Misrata from the west and a militia from the east – were last year fighting one another for control of Libya’s oil ports. Many fear that they will do so again. The parliament in Tobruk has refused to cooperate with the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Tobruk’s military commander, Khalifa Haftar, has held his own troops back from the battle for Sirte, with many Libyans now wondering whether the crushing of Isis will be the prelude to renewed hostilities between the forces of west and east Libya. 

 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/10/libyan-forces-fight-street-battles-with-isis-for-control-of-sirte