Monday 5 December 2016
The drawn-out capture of Sirte, the last major Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in Libya, has been completed after months of fighting and a stubborn resistance by snipers.
Rida Issa, a spokesman for the Misrata brigades, said they had led forces backed by US airstrikes to take the last ISIS-held buildings in the city. He said the brigades “control all of Sirte’s Ghiza Bahriya neighborhood and are still securing the area”.
ISIS fighters clinging on in a few dozen buildings in the district had earlier on Monday surrendered to Libyan forces, and at least three women had left militant-held ground, officials said.
In recent days, dozens of women and children had left the last group of buildings controlled by militants, Libyan forces said. But several women carried out deadly suicide attacks on Friday as they were being granted safe passage with their children.
ISIS commanders were also captured trying to escape by sea, along with some Tunisian fighters.
The militant group took over Sirte in early 2015 and at one point had access to 150 miles of Mediterranean coastline. The US claimed about 6,000 ISIS fighters were inside Sirte, but subsequent analysis suggested the true number was closer to 3,000.
The anti-ISIS fight in Sirte has been led by brigades from the western city of Misrata, who have taken heavy casualties, with the support of at least 470 US airstrikes since August.
The absence of any recognizable Libyan intelligence forces means the west has little idea where the defeated fighters escaping the siege may have fled over the past few months, either within Libya or the largely unguarded Libyan borders.
The capture of Sirte does little to help resolve the fundamental political problems dogging the Libyan Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.
The GNA has little or no authority, and the Libyan parliament – the House of Representatives – has refused to pass the constitutional amendments necessary to bring the GNA fully into constitutional existence.
Although oil production is slowly rising, government financial reserves are depleted and the Libyan dinar is overvalued. Fighting between rival militias in the capital, Tripoli, has worsened in the past week, with many deaths.
In recent weeks, Russia has become more closely involved in trying to resolve the political stalemate by giving visible backing to Khalifa Haftar, the Egyptian-backed leader of the Libyan National Army. Western governments regard Haftar as an obstacle to developing a political consensus. Last week he met the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.
Russia has insisted it will not arm Haftar but believes he must be integral to any new political compromise, and a reshaping of the GNA.
Source: The Guardian.