Forces in western Libya are planning a military operation to retake the city of Sirte, which was captured by ISIS last year, their spokesman said, pushing ahead with plans for a counter-attack after the extremists made territorial gains in the last week.
The fighters based in the city of Misrata have voiced the need for international logistical support to help take back what has become ISIS’s most important base outside Syria and Iraq, but will not wait for it before launching the operation, they said.
“We need logistical support from the international community, and we need weapons and ammunition,” said Brigadier General Mohamed al-Gasri, spokesman for a newly formed military operations room in Misrata. “Whether they’re going to support us or not, we will be there soon. We will not stand and watch.”
“We are ready and we are preparing our security arrangements to attack Sirte,” Gasri added.
The operations room was set up by a U.N.-backed unity government that arrived in Tripoli at the end of March.
European powers and the United States hope the unity government will be able to bring together Libya’s rival political groups and armed factions to take on ISIS.
Misrata’s brigades have largely transferred their support to it from a self-declared government formed in Tripoli in 2014.
TRENCHES AND MINES
ISIS took advantage of the political turmoil and security vacuum taking over the country after the uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi five years ago to build a power base in Libya.
The Misrata brigades were present in Sirte as ISIS began to establish control, but withdrew last summer.
Though it has struggled to win support and hold territory in parts of Libya, the terrorist organization controls a strip of more than 250 km (155 miles) of Libya’s central coastline, from which it has launched attacks to the east, west and south.
Over the last week it has made gains, carrying out suicide attacks in the sparsely populated area between Sirte and Misrata, including at a major checkpoint at Abu Grain.
Gasri confirmed that ISIS took several villages in the area and that the line of defense was now at Assdada, about 80 km south of Misrata. The militants have dug trenches and planted mines around the Abu Grain checkpoint, he said.
Thirteen members of the security forces were killed and 110 wounded in last week’s fighting, Gasri said.
Wounded fighters at a hospital in Misrata said suicide bombers had attacked in armored vehicles, one of which approached a checkpoint behind cars carrying families fleeing Sirte.
Misrata brigade members fought to defend the Abu Grain checkpoint for nearly an hour but were forced to withdraw as they were outnumbered, one said.
The eastern military has made some advances against its armed opponents, including fighters loyal to ISIS, in Benghazi, Libya’s second city.
Late on Monday ISIS said it had executed three men captured during fighting in Benghazi last month.
A hospital spokesman in Benghazi said two of those killed – including one who was beheaded – were volunteer nurses who had been helping treat wounded troops.