Libya pro-govt forces seize ISIS headquarters in Sirte

Pro-government fighters fire a rocket at ISIS militants in Sirte, Libya, Aug 4, 2016.
Pro-government fighters fire a rocket at ISIS militants in Sirte, Libya, Aug 4, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

TRIPOLI (AFP) - Pro-government forces in Libya said they seized control of the Islamic State group's (ISIS') headquarters in Sirte on Wednesday (Aug 10) as they push to oust the militants from the coastal city.

"The Ouagadougou centre is in our hands," the operations centre for forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) said.

Reda Issa, a spokesman for the forces, said ISIS militants remained in three residential areas of the city and in a villa complex near the seafront.

"The announcement of the liberation (of Sirte) will only be made once the entire city is liberated," he told AFP.

Capturing the Ouagadougou centre has been the key goal of pro-GNA forces as they have battled for weeks to oust ISIS from Sirte, which the extremists seized in June last year amid the chaos that followed the 2011 ouster of Moamer Kadhafi.

The city's fall to ISIS raised deep concerns in the West, with fears the militants were gaining an important foothold just across the Mediterranean from Europe.

Loyalist forces stepped up their fight for the city in recent days, and the Pentagon announced last week it had begun carrying out air strikes on ISIS positions in Sirte at the GNA's request.

The capture of the headquarters followed a rapid advance on Wednesday that saw pro-GNA forces seize the University of Sirte campus just south of the conference centre and the Ibn Sina Hospital to the north.

It was not immediately clear how many fighters on either side may have been killed in the clashes, but the operations centre said earlier that at least 20 Islamic militants had died in fighting for the university campus.

 

Pro-GNA forces entered Sirte in June, but their advance slowed as the jihadists hit back with sniper fire, suicide attacks and car bombings.

On Sunday, pro-government forces said the "countdown" had begun for the final assault on ISIS' holdout positions in the city, which is 450km east of Tripoli.

In a statement on Wednesday, the US Africa Command said 29 strikes had been carried out against ISIS positions as part of "Operation Odyssey Lightning" as of Tuesday.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that US commandos were working from a joint operations centre on the outskirts of Sirte, the first time they have directly supported Libyan forces in the anti-ISIS fight.

Western powers are backing the GNA in a bid to bring stability to Libya, which has been wracked by turmoil since longtime dictator Kadhafi was ousted and killed in October 2011, with rival governments vying for power and armed groups battling to control vast energy resources.