(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Albinyan Almarsos (Operation Strong Foundation) forces announced on Saturday that their troops took over Sirte’s seaport following heavy clashes with the ISIS militants, which killed two people and wounded at least eight.
The operations room media bureau said that the air force carried out 6 airstrikes on ISIS locations in Sirte, including ISIS militants and vehicles at the Abu Hadi roundabout.
Mukhtar Fakroun, a pilot from the air force said that since the attack on Abu Grein last month, Libyan warplanes carried out 150 airstrikes targeting key ISIS locations.
Rida Issa, a naval commander for the Libyan army, told AFP that ISIS militants are now surrounded in a small and densely populated area in Sirte, where they are laying booby traps.
Issa said that a part of the unity government’s strategy was for the navy to support the offensive against ISIS by taking control of the coast, “to open the way for ground forces to advance along the coast.”
“Our forces control the entire coast of Sirte. They (ISIS) will not be able to flee by sea,” he said.
Mohamed al-Ghasri, a spokesman for the military operations room, told the Daily Beast, “right now we have advanced into the city, but we’re dealing with ISIS with extreme caution.”
Ghasri said that Libyan troops had delayed launching a full advance because thousands of residents are said to still be trapped inside the city.
“Right now there are still civilians in the city and ISIS is using them as human shields so we cannot go in,” he said. “If we find a way to get the civilians out it would be just a matter of hours for us take Sirte back.
While most of the residents have fled, about 30,000 civilians are reportedly still in the city.
On Friday, Libyan forces advanced further into the city and took control of the Al-Suwawa district and began airstrikes on the Ouagadougou conference hall, which ISIS militants used as their headquarters.
The Ouagadougou conference hall, which was also hit by heavy artillery fire on Friday, was built by former dictator Muammar Gaddafi to host lavish international summits in his hometown.
The AFP reported that GNA forces used tanks, rocket launchers and artillery, while ISIS militants responded with machine guns, mortar rounds, and sniper fire.
Libyan forces encountered a large number of ISIS snipers who were strategically positioned on rooftops overlooking the sea as the army advanced into residential blocks in Sirte, 11 soldiers were reported to have been killed during the clashes on Friday and 35 were injured.
“It was a war with planes and artillery, but now it is street fighting,” said a Libyan soldier who chose to remain anonymous. “We are fighting between houses, on the streets, and we won’t back down before we eliminate them.”
On Thursday, al-Ghasri said that Sirte was only days away from being liberated from ISIS militants, after Government of National Accord (GNA) forces advanced to the city centre of Sirte, taking control of the Zafarana Square, and the entire coast.
An official for the GNA said it has about 5,000 troops fighting in Operation Strong Foundation.