Libyan forces capture Sirte convention
center from Islamic State
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[August 11, 2016]
By Ahmed Elumami
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan forces battling
to oust Islamic State from Sirte on Wednesday captured a large
convention hall complex in the city center, seizing a symbolic base
where militants once held meetings and flew their black jihadist flag.
Securing the Ouagadougou Conference Centre as well as hospital and
university buildings would mark the biggest advance made by Libyan
forces in weeks. The United States 10 days ago began air strikes on
Sirte, which fighters say hastened their progress.
"Our forces have complete control of the whole of the Ouagadougou
complex, they even advanced some distance beyond the complex," Rida
Issa, a spokesman in the forces' media office, said. Photos posted on
the media office's Facebook page showed fighters with armed pickup
trucks and a tank milling around next to the convention hall, which was
pockmarked by shelling.
The large domed building is a landmark in Sirte, hometown of late
dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and was used for meetings and religious
instruction by Islamic State (IS) after they took control of the city
Losing Sirte would be a major setback for the militants, already under
pressure in Syria and Iraq. It would also be a boost for Libya's United
Nations-backed government, which has struggled to impose its authority
and faces ongoing resistance from hardline armed factions.
Forces aligned with the government, which launched their campaign for
Sirte in May, saw the advance slowed as they approached its center. Led
by brigades from the city of Misrata, the forces have suffered heavy
casualties from IS landmines and snipers.
Clashes have been sporadic, with heavier fighting interspersed with
lulls lasting for several days. IS militants are encircled in the center
of Sirte but still control several residential areas, and the
Misrata-led brigades have previously found it difficult to advance
through neighborhoods in house-to-house fighting.
Since Aug. 1, U.S. drones and fighter jets have carried out a total of
29 strikes, earlier this week targeting several IS emplacements and a
gun-mounted pickup, according to statements by U.S. Africa Command.
In Wednesday's clashes, the government-backed forces said they had also
advanced to a cluster of unfinished blocks just west of the center of
Sirte, known as the "bone buildings," which had been used by IS snipers
and fighters had described as a major impediment to their progress.
At least 16 fighters from the government-backed forces were killed and
11 wounded, Issa said.
Earlier in the day, Libyan forces said they had lost a fighter jet over
Sirte. Issa said the cause of the crash and the fate of the crew could
not be confirmed. IS claimed it shot down the jet, killing a pilot,
according to a statement on a website close to the group.
[to top of second column]
Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government fire weapons
during a battle with IS fighters in Sirte, Libya, July 21, 2016.
Libyan militants returning from combat in Syria's civil war helped
implant IS in the North African country in 2014, but the group
failed to win widespread support or hold territory as most locals
regard it as a malign import dependent on foreign fighters.
The militant group took advantage of conflict between various
factions of former rebels who emerged as powerbrokers after the fall
of Gaddafi in 2011. The U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is the
latest attempt to consolidate power and end the conflict.
In addition to U.S. air strikes, Libyan brigades in Misrata and
Sirte have been working with small teams of Western special forces
who have provided intelligence and logistical support as well as
A few dozen members of Italy's elite special forces are in Libya to
collect intelligence, provide non-combat "support" to
government-backed forces and help other allies present in Libya,
such as British or American special forces, a source said on
The Italian government delivered a brief document outlining the
special forces mission in Libya to the parliament's intelligence
services oversight committee last week, said the source, who had
knowledge of the document.
La Repubblica newspaper reported that Italians were teaching Libyans
how to diffuse land mines in Sirte. The defense minister and prime
minister's offices did not respond to requests for comment.
(Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Tunis, and Massimiliano Di
Giorgio and Steve Scherer in Rome; writing by Aidan Lewis; editing
by Patrick Markey and G Crosse)
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