Libya prepares military operation on DAESH stronghold

Forces in western Libya prepare to advance on the city of Sirte, seized by DAESH last year, pushing ahead with plans for a counter-attack after they made territorial gains last week.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Colonel Ahmed Al-Masmari, spokesperson for the Libyan Armed Forces, speaks at a news conference on the progress of military operations of the army, in Benghazi, Libya May 11, 2016.

Updated May 12, 2016

Forces in western Libya are preparing to advance on the city of Sirte, seized by DAESH last year, their spokesman said, pushing ahead with plans for a counter-attack after the group made territorial gains in the last week.

The fighters based in the city of Misrata would like international logistical support to help retake what has become DAESH's most important base outside Syria and Iraq, but will not wait for it before launching the operation, they said.

"We are ready and we are preparing our security arrangements to attack Sirte," said Brigadier General Mohamed al Gasri, spokesman for a newly formed military operations room in Misrata.

A Libyan man waves his national flag during a demonstration against supporters of the regime of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi in the eastern city of Benghazi on August 7, 2015

The operations room was set up by a UN-backed unity government, which arrived in Tripoli at the end of March.

European countries and the United States hope the unity government will be able to unite Libya's rival political groups and armed factions to take on DAESH, though it is unclear how far its authority extends on the ground.

Misrata's brigades have largely transferred their support to it from a self-declared government formed in Tripoli in 2014.

But the unity government has struggled to win support from another administration based the east and the military forces allied to it. They have also said they would move against Sirte, though past announcements have come to nothing.

Late last month the unity government urged both sides to hold off attacking Sirte before a unified command is created, fearing an uncoordinated offensive could lead to civil war.

"We need logistical support from the international community, and we need weapons and ammunition," Gasri said. "Whether they're going to support us or not, we will be there soon. We will not stand and watch."

A member of the Libyan pro-government forces is seen with a weapon during street clashes with the Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels in Benghazi in this March 16, 2015 file photo.


DAESH took advantage of the political turmoil and security vacuum after the uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi five years ago to build a power base in Libya.

The Misrata brigades were present in Sirte as DAESH began to establish control, but withdrew last summer.

Though it has struggled to win support and hold territory in parts of Libya, DAESH controls a strip of more than 250 km (155 miles) of Libya's central coastline, from which it has launched attacks to the east, west and south.

Over the last week it has made gains, carrying out suicide attacks in the sparsely populated area between Sirte and Misrata, including at a major checkpoint at Abu Grain.

Gasri confirmed that DAESH terrorist organisation took several villages in the area and that the line of defence was now at Assdada, about 80 km south of Misrata. The terrorists have dug trenches and planted mines around the Abu Grain checkpoint, he said.

Clashes erupted again late on Wednesday at Assdada, with one member of the security forces killed and 10 wounded, Misrata hospital spokesman Aziz Issa said. Thirteen members of the security forces were killed and 110 wounded in last week's fighting, said Gasri.

Members of the Libyan pro-government forces, backed by the locals, take their positions during street clashes with the Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels in Benghazi in this March 16, 2015 file photo.

Wounded fighters at a hospital in Misrata said suicide bombers had attacked in armoured vehicles last Thursday, one of which approached a checkpoint behind cars carrying families fleeing Sirte.

Misrata brigade members fought to defend the Abu Grain checkpoint for nearly an hour but were forced to withdraw as they were outnumbered, one said.

The eastern military has made some advances against its armed opponents, including fighters loyal to DAESH, in Benghazi, Libya's second city.

Late on Monday the group said it had executed three men captured during fighting in Benghazi last month.

A hospital spokesman in Benghazi said two of those killed - including one who was beheaded - were volunteer nurses who had been helping treat wounded troops. 

TRTWorld, Reuters