- Coalition spokesman says 300 IS fighters killed in operation
- Defeat would deprive IS of only base outside of Middle East
Forces allied to Libya’s unity government entered the center of Sirte, the coastal city held by Islamic State for about a year, removing black banners and toppling a platform used by the extremist group for crucifixions.
“Our forces are still progressing carefully to avoid exposure to suicide attacks, and we’re dealing with their snipers,” Colonel Mohamed al-Ghasrie, spokesman for the coalition of armed units leading the offensive, said by phone. “They’re still resisting but their days are limited in Sirte, their strength is collapsing and no one can save them.”
Twelve coalition fighters were killed on Friday, bringing the death toll since the operation on the city began three weeks ago to 120, Al-Ghasrie said. At least 300 Islamic State fighters have died as coalition forces took control of several strategic sties, including the Qardabiyyah Airport on the outskirts of Sirte. They’re currently surrounding the Ouagadougou Hall, a complex used by the jihadist group for lectures, according to Al-Ghasrie.
Islamic State exploited a power vacuum in Libya after the country split between two rival administrations from 2014. The group seized Sirte the following year, though it has since lost control of the city of Derna and most of Benghazi to forces led by Khalifa Haftar, a powerful eastern military commander who opposes Libya’s unity government.
Victory in Sirte would cement recent gains against Islamic State and deprive the jihadist group of its only base outside the Middle East. It would also boost Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj’s efforts to unite the country under a United Nations-backed administration -- seen by international allies as the best chance to stem the violence that has plagued Libya in the five years since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi.