Dozens of fighters loyal to UN-backed government killed in clashes with ISIL as the “final battle for Sirte” begins.
Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed government are advancing cautiously on the remaining pockets of ISIL fighters holding out in the coastal city of Sirte.
The push comes after months of intense fighting in Sirte between government forces and fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), which gained a foothold in the country following the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Pro-government fighter Mohamed Abdulla said troops were “making progress every day”, but he added they needed better medical care for their wounded.
As of last week, ISIL fighters controlled only a kilometre-long residential strip in the city that was once entirely their stronghold.
The pro-government forces fought their way into Sirte on June 9.
Since August 1, progress has been aided by US air strikes on ISIL vehicles, weapons, and fighting positions.
An estimated 90,000 people, about three-quarters of the city’s population, have fled Sirte since it was taken over by ISIL forces last year, according to the United Nations.
Losing Sirte would be a major setback for the armed group, already under pressure in Syria and Iraq.
It would also be a boost for Libya’s UN-brokered government, which has struggled to impose its authority and faces continuing resistance from armed militias.
A rival eastern commander, Khalifa Haftar, seized some of Libya’s major oil ports, one of which is less than 200km from Sirte.
‘A collapsed city’
As pro-government fighters push to finish a five-month-old campaign to clear ISIL from the coastal city, the health system is steadily collapsing.
A global medical charity warned last week that the thousands of residents in Sirte faced shortages in food and medicine.
The International Medical Group, which has been assisting Libyans who have fled Sirte, said once ISIL was ousted from the city, government and aid agencies would face a huge challenge rebuilding infrastructure and re-establishing services.
“Sirte is a collapsed city,” said Claudio Colantoni, the International Medical Corps’ country director for Libya.