Monday, December 05, 2016

Libyan Militias Take Control of Last Islamic State Holdouts in Sirte - Spokesman
DEC 5, 2016 - 13:58

A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government looks for Islamic State militants through a hole in a wall as forces advance against the militants' holdouts in Ghiza Bahriya district in Sirte, Libya. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan militias took control on Monday of the final cluster of buildings where Islamic State militants were holding out in their former North African stronghold of Sirte, and were securing the area, a spokesman said.

Islamic State took over Sirte in early 2015, setting up its most important base outside the Middle East and extending its control along about 250 km (150 miles) of Mediterranean coastline.

Forces led by brigades from the western city of Misrata launched a counter-attack against the jihadist group in May, and since Aug. 1 the United States has carried out at least 470 air strikes to support them.

Spokesman Rida Issa told Reuters that forces led by brigades from Misrata and backed by U.S. air strikes "control all of Sirte's Ghiza Bahriya neighbourhood and are still securing the area".

The statement could not immediately be verified and there was no official announcement that Sirte had been taken.

Earlier on Monday, more than a dozen Islamic State fighters clinging on in a few dozen buildings in the Ghiza Bahriya district had surrendered to Libyan forces, and at least three women had left militant-held ground, officials said.

In recent days, Libyan forces say dozens of women and children have left the last group of buildings controlled by militants.

The presence of the families has been one of the factors complicating attempts to push forward into the final sliver of land held by Islamic State, and several women carried out suicide attacks as they were being granted safe passage.

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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