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Libyan unity forces fight Daesh in Sirte

By AFP - Aug 04,2016 - Last updated at Aug 04,2016

A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed government fires a shell with Soviet made T-55 tank at Daesh militants from a beach in Sirte, Libya, on Wednesday (Reuters photo)

SIRTE, Libya — Libyan pro-government forces battled to seize more territory from Daesh militants in their stronghold Sirte on Wednesday but their offensive was hindered by mines and snipers.

Fighters allied to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by US air strikes, are trying to retake the hometown of slain dictator Muammar Qadhafi from extremists who have controlled the city since June 2015.

"Our forces... are trying to strengthen their advance with the support of ongoing American air strikes that have given momentum to the military operation," said Reda Issa, a spokesman for forces loyal to Libya's unity government.

American warplanes carried out seven strikes against Daesh positions in Sirte on Monday and Tuesday at the GNA's request.

Issa did not say whether further strikes took place on Wednesday.

GNA forces have been battling to oust militants from the town since May 12. They entered the city on June 9 and have pushed the extremists out of the city's port, international airport, an air base and a hospital.

But their advance slowed as Daesh hit back with sniper fire, car bombs and suicide attacks.

“There are targets that are hard to hit because they are among the houses,” said Issa.

“American air strikes, which are very accurate, will help to destroy those targets.

“Every day the battle’s outcome is not settled, the city becomes more full of booby traps,” said Issa.

“But there is no doubt that the presence of effective and accurate weapons will accelerate the end of the battle.”

 

‘Support to limit losses’ 

 

The loss of Sirte would be a major blow to the extremists, who have faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

Daesh took over the city in June 2015, taking advantage of chaos after the fall of Qadhafi.

US President Barack Obama defended the air campaign on Tuesday, saying defeating the extremists there was in America’s national interest.

Obama has said that American air strikes serve the national security interests of the US and its European allies.

Washington has been carrying out air strikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq since 2014, with the aim of “destroying” the group, which has carried out atrocities throughout the areas it controls.

Washington has launched several strikes against Daesh in Libya in recent months. In November US bombing in the eastern city of Derna killed a militant who Washington said was the most senior Daesh commander in Libya.

But the fight for Sirte has taken its toll on GNA forces. More than 300 have been killed and 1,500 wounded, according to medical sources in Misrata, 200 kilometres east of Tripoli, where the GNA’s command centre is located.

A spokesman for the GNA forces told AFP: “We asked for [US] support to limit our losses.”

“We have had more than 100 amputations, numerous clinical deaths and gravely wounded,” Mohamad Ghassri said.

The GNA decided to seek help from the US air force instead of buying intelligent weapons for its own warplanes because of the UN arms embargo on Libya since 2011, Ghassri said. 

US strikes show ‘contempt’

 

Two rival governments are competing for authority in Libya, while dozens of militias vie for power on the ground.

The GNA, based in Tripoli, is recognised by the international community, but the elected house of representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk has refused to endorse the unity government.

The authorities based in the east have condemned the US air strikes.

On Tuesday the Tobruk parliament summoned the Tunis-based American ambassador to protest, saying it expected a written or verbal response if he could not attend in person.

Dar Al Ifta, the highest religious authority in the country, which does not recognise the GNA, also condemned the American air strikes against Daesh.

It said the raids showed “contempt for the many sacrifices of the martyrs” and were a violation of Libya’s sovereignty.

The Tobruk administration faces its own fight with extremists.

For two years, Libya’s second city Benghazi has been the scene of daily clashes between the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who is aligned with the Tobruk-based authorities, and a militia alliance known as the Revolutionary Shura Council.

 

On Tuesday evening, 23 fighters allied with the house of representatives were killed in a suicide attack in Benghazi, a medical source in the eastern city told AFP. 

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