Skip to main content

Libyan forces repel IS counter-attack near Sirte stronghold

Unity government forces say they repulsed attempt by Islamic State militants to retake territory lost in recent battles
Smoke billows at the entrance of Sirte as Libyan forces advance to recapture the city from the Islamic State on June 10, 2016 (AFP)

Forces allied with Libya's unity government say they have repelled a counter-attack by Islamic State fighters in the group's coastal stronghold of Sirte.

The Wednesday report comes shortly after the UN Security Council authorised an EU naval mission to enforce an arms embargo on the country.

IS fighters hit positions controlled by fighters loyal to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord west of the city with tank, mortar and sniper fire on Tuesday, according to a statement from the pro-GNA forces.

Five pro-government fighters were killed in the clashes and 37 wounded, it said.

Loyalist forces have battled since mid-May to remove IS from Sirte, and the mix of militias and army units have seized control of its port and airport.

But their advance slowed at the end of last week as they reached central and northern parts of the city where IS fighters control residential areas.

The operation to retake Sirte has so far killed 145 pro-GNA fighters and injured a further 500, according to medical officials.

Pro-government forces said they had also opened a new front around the east of the city, hitting targets in the vicinity of the city's vast former conference centre, now used by IS as a battlefield headquarters.

Jihadist groups took root in Libya in late 2014, taking advantage of the chaos and power struggles that followed the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011.

Despite having a population of only six million, there are an estimated 20 million pieces of weaponry in the country, UN envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council last week.

The UN resolution allows EU naval forces to inspect ships to and from Libya “which they have reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related material to or from Libya".

Established in Tripoli more than two months ago, Libya's unity government has been struggling to unify violence-ridden Libya and exert its control over the North African country.

A parallel government based in eastern Libya, led by Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, refuses to recognise the GNA.

The GNA’s prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj called on Tuesday for the nation to unite behind the anti-IS operations in Sirte.

The operation against IS in Sirte, Gaddafi’s home city, enjoys wide support in western Libya, where many welcomed the GNA's installation in the capital Tripoli on March 30.