Libyan forces clear last ISIS holdout in Sirte

Libyan forces backed by US air strikes have finished clearing the final district of the former ISIS stronghold of Sirte. (Reuters)

Libyan forces backed by US air strikes have finished clearing the final district of the former ISIS stronghold of Sirte in which the extremist group had been holding out, a spokesman for the forces said on Tuesday.

A Reuters witness said fighting had ended in Sirte’s Ghiza Bahriya area, where ISIS had been dug in for weeks at the end of a battle for the city that began in May.

Spokesman Rida Issa said forces led by brigades from Misrata had “secured all the buildings and the streets” in Ghiza Bahriya, though this did not mean the end of the Misrata-led operation. “We still need to secure the area around Sirte,” he said.

Libyan and Western officials say some ISIS fighters escaped from Sirte before the battle or in its early stages. They fear an insurgent campaign from outside the city and there have been attacks in outlying areas.

ISIS took over Sirte in early 2015, turning it into their most important base outside the Middle East and moving large numbers of foreign fighters into the city.

The militant group imposed its ultra-hardline rule on Sirte’s residents, extending its control along about 250 km (155 miles) of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline.

The Misrata-led forces counter-attacked in May after extremists moved along the coast towards the city.

The brigades, nominally aligned with a UN-backed government in Tripoli, advanced rapidly towards the center of Sirte before suicide bombers, snipers and mines largely halted their progress.

Since Aug. 1, the United States has carried out at least 495 air strikes against ISIS in Sirte.

In recent days, dozens of women and children, some of them migrants from sub-Saharan Africa held captive by ISIS, had escaped or had been released from militant-held ground.

A further group of women and children emerged on Tuesday as forces secured the final few buildings in Ghiza Bahriya, Issa said. Six ISIS fighters were killed or captured, he said.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:53 - GMT 06:53
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