Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed government said Monday they had seized full control of the city of Sirte from the ISIS group, dealing a major blow to the militants.
The battle for the city, which was the last significant territory held by ISIS in Libya, took more than six months and cost the lives of hundreds of loyalist troops.
“Our forces have total control of Sirte,” Reda Issa, a spokesman for pro-government forces, told AFP.
“Our forces saw Daesh totally collapse,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
Forces allied with the country’s unity government launched an offensive to retake the city on May 12, quickly seizing large areas of the city and cornering the militants.
But ISIS put up fierce resistance with suicide car bombings, snipers and improvised explosive devices.
The United States started a bombing campaign in August at the request of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to help local forces recapture the city, seized by militants in June 2015.
“Daesh has totally collapsed and dozens of them have given themselves up to our forces,” said a statement on the loyalist forces’ official Facebook page.
Libya descended into chaos following the NATO-backed ousting of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, with rival administrations emerging and well-armed militias vying for control of the country’s vast oil wealth.
The infighting and lawlessness allowed extremist groups such as ISIS to seize several coastal regions, giving the militants a toehold on Europe’s doorstep.
The fall of Sirte -- Kadhafi’s hometown located 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli -- represents a significant blow to ISIS, which has also faced a series of setbacks and major assaults in Syria and Iraq.
Iraqi forces are advancing on the IS stronghold of Mosul, while a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance said last month they had launched an offensive to retake Raqa, the Syrian capital of the “caliphate” the militants proclaimed in 2014.
The fight for Sirte took far longer than originally hoped, but signs emerged in recent days that ISIS fighters were about to capitulate.
The Pentagon last week said that ISIS holdouts were staging a “last stand” in their former stronghold. Pro-GNA forces on Sunday said they had even arrested several militants attempting to swim to safety.
Almost seven months of fighting left nearly 700 GNA fighters dead and 3,000 wounded. The death toll among the militants is not known.SHOW MORE