Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) hold a position near the central area known as District One on August 21, 2016 as they fight against ISIS holed up in Sirte. (AFP)
Libyan forces renewed their push to oust ISIS from its former North African stronghold of Sirte on Sunday, saying they had seized the city’s main mosque and a jail run by the militants’ morality police.
The forces, mainly brigades from the city of Misrata, say they are close to capturing Sirte after taking most of the city in a three-month campaign and restricting militants to a shrinking residential area in the city center. Since Aug. 1, they have been supported by US air strikes.
At least nine brigade fighters were killed and 85 wounded in Sunday’s fighting, Misrata hospital spokesman Akram Gliwan said. Fighters backed by heavy artillery and tanks advanced early in the day in Bufaraa neighborhood, seizing a building used by ISIS’s morality police as a prison, said Rida Issa, a spokesman.
Later, forces took Ribat mosque, Sirte’s biggest, where senior militants, including leading ISIS ideologue Turki Ben Ali, had preached, the forces’ media office said.
The media office said “dozens” of bodies of ISIS fighters were found in newly captured areas, although it did not give a specific number and it was not clear when the militants were killed.
As of Thursday, the United States had carried out 65 air strikes over Sirte, according to US Africa Command, most recently against a supply truck, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device and three enemy fighting positions.
The strikes have accelerated the progress of Libyan forces, whose advance had been slowed by suicide bombings, snipers and mines.