Libya calls for halt on anti-ISIS Sirte offensive

ISIS held Sirte after taking advantage of a conflict between alliances of armed brigades allied to Libya’s rival governments

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Libya’s UN-backed unity government called on Thursday on military factions to hold off from any campaign against the ISIS-controlled city of Sirte until a unified military command structure is created.

The statement came amid signs that factions from both eastern and western Libya could be gearing up for an advance on Sirte, although such operations have repeatedly been announced in recent months without taking place.

ISIS has held Sirte since 2015, taking advantage of a conflict between loose alliances of armed brigades allied to Libya’s rival governments to seize a 250km strip of coastline around the central Mediterranean city, which lies between the eastern and western power bases.

Western states are hoping the unity government, which arrived in Tripoli last month, will be able to make Libya’s armed factions work together against the ultra-hardline militant group, and have said they are ready to provide training for Libyan forces if requested by the unity government.

The United States has already conducted air strikes against ISIS militants in Libya.

The unity government’s leadership, or Presidential Council, said on Thursday it welcomed the “push by various factions and armed forces to fight ISIS forces in Sirte”, but warned that an uncoordinated offensive could lead to civil war.

“In the absence of coordination and unified leadership ... the Council expresses its concern that the battle in Sirte against Daesh (ISIS) will be a confrontation between those armed forces,” it said in a statement, adding such a conflict would likely benefit ISIS.

“Accordingly, the Presidential Council, as the supreme commander of army, demands all Libyan military forces wait for it to appoint a joint leadership for the Sirte operation,” the statement said.

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