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Libyan forces 'close to defeating IS' in Sirte

Libyan forces are closing in on victory in Sirte [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 November, 2016

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Since operations began to recapture Sirte on Libya's coast from IS in May, the battle has been long and slow, with house-to-house fighting slowing Libyan forces.

Libyan forces lost at least five men as they close in on victory over Islamic State group militants encamped in a narrow strip of land in their former stronghold of Sirte on Saturday. 

Led by forces from the city of Misrata and backed by US airstrikes, Libyan troops embarked on a campaign on Sirte in May. 

Currently IS militants remain in only a few dozen houses near the city's Mediterranean seafront but are putting up fierce resistance defending their positions with snipers, tunnels and hidden explosive devices.

According to Akram Gliwan, a hospital spokesman in Misrata, five fighters were killed and 18 more wounded in clashes in Sirte on Saturday.

Reuters reported that Libyan troops had come under fire attempting to advance after using tanks and heavy machine gun fire to pummel IS positions. 

IS took control of Sirte in early 2015. Its loss will constitute an ideological blow to the extremist group at a time when its strongholds in Iraq and Syria are also coming under attack by local, US-aligned forces. 

Washington has carried out more than 400 airstrikes on IS targets in Sirte since beginning aerial campaigns over the city in August. 

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At least 660 Libyan fighters have been killed battling IS in Sirte in the last six months, and a further 3,000 wounded.

IS gunmen are holding out longer than expected in the city with airstrikes often proving of limited effectiveness due to the close proximity of front lines. 

Defeat of IS in Sirte will by no means guarantee stability in Libya which has been racked by political divisions and infighting since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. 

In particular, animosity is evident between Prime Minister designate Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the UN-backed government based in Tripoli, and military strongman Khalifa Haftar whose forces notably seized a number of oil ports in the country in September.

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