Forces loyal to Libya’s unity government said yesterday they were advancing inside the militant stronghold of Sirte, following the first US air strikes on Islamic State group positions in the city.
The IS bastion, located just across the Mediterranean from Europe, has been shaken by weeks of fierce clashes between militants and fighters allied to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
The city, 450km east of Tripoli, has been controlled by IS since June 2015, and its loss would be a major blow to the militants, who have faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
IS has transformed the city into a training camp for Libyan and foreign militants, terrifying residents with public amputations and executions.
The pro-GNA forces said Tuesday they had gained full control of Al-Dollar, a central residential district in Sirte, after clashes that killed five of their members and wounded 17.
The announcement came after US aircraft launched five air strikes on Monday against “several targets in Sirte, hitting IS members and vehicles”, the GNA forces said in a statement.
The Pentagon said the raids were launched in response to a request from Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the unity government.
It was unclear whether the strikes had helped the GNA fighters to gain control of Al-Dollar.
IS took advantage of the chaos in Libya after the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi to increase its presence in the oil-rich country.
The militants have claimed deadly attacks, including beheadings, and targeted foreign embassies.
On Monday, Sarraj visited pro-government forces in Misrata, 190km to the northwest of Sirte, his office said.
More than 300 pro-GNA fighters have been killed and over 1,500 wounded since the start of the battle for Sirte, according to medical sources in Misrata.
Forces supporting Sarraj’s government entered Sirte on June 9, but their advance has been slowed by an IS fightback using suicide car bombs and sniper fire.
The pro-GNA forces are mostly made up of militias from western Libya established during the 2011 revolt.
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