Anti-IS forces retake downtown area in Libya’s Sirte

Sirte (Libya) (AFP) – Libyan pro-government forces advanced Tuesday against last pockets of resistance by fighters of the Islamic State jihadist group in the coastal city of Sirte.

Backed by tanks and mortar fire, pro-government forces seized “District Two” of central Sirte, military officials said.

The advance came a day after the loyalists cleared and demined areas of the city captured in earlier clashes.

An AFP photographer said the assault on District Two was mounted in a west-to-east direction and led by tanks opening the way for infantry.

“District Two has been liberated,” Reda Issa, a spokesman for the pro-government forces, told AFP.

A commander of the forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) said loyalists had also taken up positions south of District Two to cut off escape routes.

General Mohamad al-Ghassri, a military spokesman for the pro-GNA forces, said Sunday that only a single residential area, named District One, located in the heart of Sirte, remained under IS control.

Clashes were also taking place in the other downtown area, District Three in eastern Sirte, he said.

Loyalist forces launched operations on May 12 to retake the Mediterranean city and home town of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi, which IS seized in June last year.

On June 9, pro-government forces entered Sirte and have since forced the jihadists to retreat downtown, expelling them from key positions including their headquarters at the Ouagadougou conference centre, a sprawling compound near the city centre.

AFP correspondents who toured the city on Saturday said loyalist forces were pressing their advance, buoyed by US air strikes earlier this month that targeted IS holdouts in the city.

More than 300 pro-government fighters have been killed and 1,800 wounded in the three-month-old battle for Sirte, according to an official casualty toll. The jihadists have not revealed their losses.