Libya resumes anti-ISIS offensive after two-week pause

Sunday 18/09/2016
It remains difficult to push out ISIS

SIRTE (Libya) - Libyan pro-government forces Sunday pressed an offensive against Islamic State group holdouts in Sirte, pounding them with heavy artillery after a two-week pause in the fighting, their media office said.

The forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) also killed suicide bombers before the jihadists could detonate two vehicles, a statement on their Facebook page said.

"Our forces are using heavy artillery to target the positions where Daesh (ISIS) holdouts are cowering," the statement said.

It said the two booby-trapped vehicles were blown up in District Three, the last area to which the jihadists have pulled back.

Reda Issa, a spokesman for the loyalist forces, said field commanders held several meetings before deciding to resume the offensive after a two-week lull.

"Progress is now being achieved and our forces are clashing with Daesh fighters," he said.

A field hospital on the outskirts of Sirte said three members of the loyalist forces were killed on Sunday.

Earlier this month, Issa had said the fighting had eased as pro-government forces mull ways "to minimise the casualties caused by ISIS suicide attacks".

Suicide bombings and sniper fire from the cornered jihadists have slowed the offensive loyalist forces first launched in May to retake Sirte, the coastal home town of dead dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

More than 450 members of the loyalist forces have been killed and around 2,500 wounded since the operation began.

The number of casualties has overwhelmed doctors at the Sirte field hospital who are the first to treat the wounded, and also the nearby Misrata hospital, the only one in the region.

Pro-government forces have said the situation at Misrata Central Hospital is having a direct impact on the offensive and delaying the final push to retake Sirte.

Italy has said it will set up a military field hospital in Misrata, following a request from the GNA, to treat the wounded.

"We are planning to deploy around 300 people, 65 doctors and nurses, 135 logistics staff and 100 for the protection of the hospital," Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti told the parliamentary defence and foreign affairs committee in Rome last week.

Issa confirmed that work on the Italian field hospital was under way.

ISIS captured Sirte in June last year, sparking fears that the jihadists would use the Mediterranean city as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 300 kilometres (180 miles) from Libyan shores.