Libya pro-government forces attack last ISIS bastion in Sirte

Sunday 28/08/2016
Libyan forces are advancing

SIRTE (Libya) - Forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) said Saturday they have launched a new attack on diehards of the Islamic State group in the coastal city of Sirte.

Backed by weeks of US air strikes, the pro-GNA forces have recaptured nearly all of what had been the jihadists' main stronghold in North Africa.

"We are attacking the last Daesh positions in district three," a GNA fighter said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. The GNA forces media centre confirmed on Facebook that the attack had begun.

"Our forces are advancing inside the areas where Daesh is, in district three, and so far have taken control of" two banks and a hotel, the media centre said.

It also said they had thwarted an attempted suicide bombing.

One pro-government fighter had been killed, the Misrata hospital's Facebook page said.

A journalist saw ambulances leaving Sirte -- hometown of dead dictator Moamer Gathafi -- for Misrata to the west.

The forces loyal to the UN-backed GNA had said last weekend they were preparing to "liberate" the entire city after seizing several ISIS positions, including its headquarters.

On Wednesday, GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj visited Sirte for the first time since loyalist forces launched their offensive more than three months ago to drive the jihadists from the city.

Sarraj and some of his ministers toured former front lines as well as the Ouagadougou conference centre which ISIS had used as its base.

"We will continue to chase, with the help of God, the Daesh remnants and strike them wherever they may be in our country," Sarraj said this week.

The capture of the city by ISIS last year sparked fears that the jihadists would use it as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

The Sunni extremists took advantage of the chaos in oil-rich Libya after the 2011 uprising to seize Sirte in June 2015, hoisting their black flag above the city.

The offensive on the ground has been backed by US air power.

On Friday, the United States Africa Command said that since the US campaign began on August 1, US drones, helicopters and bombers had carried out a total of 108 air strikes against the jihadists in Sirte.

It said that on August 31, targets including five "enemy fighting positions" and a vehicle bomb were hit.

Fewer than 200 ISIS jihadists remain in Sirte, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said on Thursday, and they are essentially surrounded by GNA forces and the sea.

The fall of Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, would represent a significant setback to ISIS, which has also faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.