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Libyan loyalist forces face IS group counter-attack in Sirte

Mahmud Turkia, AFP | Forces loyal to Libya's UN-backed unity government fire from a tank in Sirte's centre as they advance to recapture the city from the Islamic State (IS) group on June 10, 2016

Forces aligned with Libya’s unity government said they had made significant gains in residential districts of Sirte on Tuesday as they battle to oust Islamic State (IS) group from its coastal stronghold.

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A spokesman for the government-backed brigades said Libyan forces were securing the “700” neighbourhood, just south of central Sirte, and had also made ground to the west of the city centre.

Pro-government forces nevertheless suffered significant losses, with 34 of its fighters killed and another 100 wounded in clashes with IS group jihadists, according to medical sources.

Brigades composed mainly of fighters from the western city of Misrata launched a campaign against the IS group a month ago, advancing rapidly towards Sirte from the west.

In the past week they had faced counter-attacks from militants holed up inside the city, who have deployed snipers, mines and car bombs to try to force the brigades back.

“Our forces are combing the 700 neighbourhood after fierce clashes,” spokesman Rida Issa told reporters on Tuesday. “The electricity company headquarters, TV and radio building, Number 2 neighbourhood, and Bin Hamel mosque are all recaptured.”

The loyalist forces had also seized a second ammunition store from the IS group, he said.

The jihadist movement expanded into Libya from 2014, establishing a presence in several towns and cities. It took full control of Sirte last year, benefiting from a security vacuum and from the political chaos that has roiled Libya since long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

‘No change’ in US strategy

Meanwhile, a US general said Tuesday that he did not know if the United States had a particular "grand strategy" in the war-torn north African country.

Currently, the United States has only a limited footprint in Libya, even though an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 IS group fighters operate there.

Small teams of US special operations forces are working to gain intelligence and US aircraft have conducted at least two strikes, but the Obama administration has preferred to let forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) lead the fight against the IS group.

Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, who has been nominated to lead the US military's Africa Command, said he did not necessarily see the level of US engagement changing.

"I am not aware of any overall grand strategy at this point," Waldhauser told lawmakers at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He also said the current, unspecified number of US troops in the North African country was sufficient for now.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS) 

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