Anti-IS forces retake central area in Libya's Sirte



SIRTE, LIBYA- Libyan pro-government forces said they seized control Tuesday of another central district of Sirte as they tried to flush out the last Islamic State group fighters in the coastal city.
Dozens of US air strikes this month have helped to weaken IS's hold on Sirte, which the jihadists seized last year and established as their main base outside Syria and Iraq.



Backed by tanks and mortar fire, forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) on Tuesday retook an area of central Sirte known as District Two, military officials said.
The jihadists struck back with two suicide car bomb attacks, but failed to hit their targets, though one of the bombers detonated his explosives close to a group of soldiers and journalists.
The advance by pro-GNA troops came a day after the loyalists cleared and demined areas of the city captured in earlier clashes.
An AFP photographer said the assault was led by tanks which opened the way for infantry.
"District Two has been liberated," Reda Issa, a spokesman for the pro-government forces, told AFP.
A commander of the pro-GNA forces said loyalists had also taken up positions south of the recaptured neighbourhood to cut off escape routes.
IS seized control of Sirte, the home town of ex-dictator Moamer Kadhafi, in June 2015, taking advantage of the chaos that followed the longtime Libyan leader's ouster and killing in 2011.
Loyalist forces have been pushing to clear Sirte of the jihadists since expelling them from key positions including their headquarters at the Ouagadougou conference centre last week.
Officials said on Sunday that only a single residential area, named District One, remained under full IS control, while fighting was ongoing in Districts Two and Three.
Loyalist forces launched operations in mid-May to retake Sirte and entered the city on June 9, facing heavy resistance as they moved towards the centre.
The Pentagon said it carried out "precision" air strikes against IS positions in Sirte on Monday, in action coordinated with the GNA.
- Denying IS 'safe haven' -
An IS vehicle and "four enemy fighting positions" were hit, it said, adding that a total of 48 such US air strikes had been carried out since August 1.
"These actions, and those we have taken previously, will help deny Daesh (IS) a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the United States and our allies," the Pentagon said in an update.
The jihadists' seizure of the city sparked fears it would be used as a springboard for attacks on Europe across the Mediterranean.
More than 300 pro-government fighters have been killed and 1,800 wounded in the three-month-old battle for Sirte, according to an official casualty toll. The jihadists have not revealed their losses.
Loyalist forces have said they will declare Sirte "fully liberated" only once all jihadists have been cleared from the city.
Sirte's fall would be a huge setback to IS's efforts to expand its self-proclaimed "caliphate" beyond Syria and Iraq where the jihadists have also suffered losses.
The unity government emerged as the result of a UN-brokered power-sharing deal in December, but it has struggled to assert its authority across Libya.
A rival administration based in the country's far east has refused to cede power to the GNA.
Ten members of forces loyal to those authorities in the east were killed and 34 wounded during fighting with a militia alliance, the Revolutionary Shura Council, in the eastern city of Benghazi, military sources said Tuesday.
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Wednesday, August 17th 2016
AFP
           


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