Libyan forces push into Sirte after U.S. air attacks

Middle East Eye reports: Forces loyal to Libya’s unity government have advanced inside the Islamic State group’s stronghold of Sirte following the first US air attacks on positions in the city.

Fighters seized the central district of al-Dollar after clashes that killed five of their members and wounded 17, they said on social media on Tuesday.

The Tripoli-based unity government launched an operation in May to retake Sirte, which the militants have controlled since June 2015.

The fall of the coastal city, 450km east of Tripoli, would be a major blow to IS, which has also faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

The US air raids would continue as long as the unity government continued to request them, the US defence department said on Monday. [Continue reading…]

TSG IntelBrief says: The metastasizing nature of the so-called Islamic State has required the military effort to combat the group to grow alongside it. Though the U.S. has struck high-value targets in Libya before — most recently in February — it has not engaged in a sustained air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya. However, the announcement on August 1 of two airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in the coastal city of Sirte may be an indication that the operational tempo against the group in Libya is about to increase. The strikes came at the request of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which has been trying to battle the Islamic State while simultaneously attempting to navigate the numerous militias and armed rivals that make foreign intervention highly problematic.

For a time in late 2015, it appeared that the Islamic State was on the verge of making Sirte its de facto third capital after Mosul and Raqqa. Unlike Iraq and Syria, the environment in Libya has posed unique challenges for the Islamic State’s ‘fight everyone everywhere’ strategy; the lack of a sectarian wedge in Libya blunts the group’s appeal. Still, the Islamic State managed to take control of the important coastal city of Sirte in May 2015, and estimates of the group’s total strength in Libya ballooned to 4,000-6,000 fighters in April 2016.

To prevent another Raqqa or Mosul, the U.S., as well as France, the UK, and others, have spent months building liaison relationships with various militia and GNA forces. These relationships take time to build, as do intelligence gathering networks that can generate information accurate enough for targeting purposes. The August 1 strikes in Sirte indicate that cooperation and coordination has progressed to a level in which all parties are comfortable moving ahead. The scale and pace of any U.S. air campaign in Libya will not compare to those in Iraq or Syria, but comments made by U.S. officials indicate airstrikes will continue as the GNA seeks to gain footing in the fractured country. [Continue reading…]

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