SIRTE, Libya: Libyan pro-government forces battled to retake territory in the Islamic State group stronghold Sirte on Wednesday, but faced fierce resistance from jihadist snipers and mines.
Fighters allied to Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by US air strikes, are trying to retake the coastal city — hometown of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi — from IS which has controlled it since June 2015.
The loss of Sirte would be a major blow to the jihadist group, which has faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
“Our forces… are trying to strengthen their advance with the support of ongoing American air strikes that have given momentum to the military operation,” said Reda Issa, a spokesman for forces loyal to Libya’s unity government.
American warplanes carried out seven strikes against IS positions in Sirte on Monday and Tuesday at the GNA’s request, but Issa did not say whether further strikes took place on Wednesday.
GNA forces have been battling to oust jihadists — who seized control of the town in the chaos following the fall of Kadhafi — since May 12. They entered the city on June 9 and have so far retaken the city’s port, international airport, an air base and a hospital.
But their advance slowed as IS hit back with sniper fire, car bombs and suicide attacks.
“There are targets that are hard to hit because they are among the houses,” said Issa.
“American air strikes, which are very accurate, will help to destroy those targets,” he added.
US strikes show ‘contempt’
The country’s rival government based in the east condemned the US air strikes, slamming them as a political move by the GNA to sure up their hold on power.
A spokesman for forced linked to the Tobruk parliament Ahmed al-Mesmari slammed the US support as “political attempt by (GNA head Fayez) Serraj to achieve political gains”.
Two rival governments are competing for authority in Libya — the GNA, based in Tripoli, recognized by the international community, and the elected House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk, which has refused to endorse the unity government.
On Tuesday the Tobruk parliament summoned the Tunis-based US ambassador to protest, saying it expected a written or verbal response if he could not attend in person.
Dar al-Ifta, the highest religious authority in the country, which does not recognize the GNA, also condemned the US air strikes against IS.
It said the raids showed “contempt for the many sacrifices of the martyrs” and were a violation of Libya’s sovereignty.