Libya forces say pushing back Islamic State fighters

Wed May 18, 2016 6:28pm EDT
 
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By Ayman al-Sahli

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libya's U.N.-backed unity government pushed Islamic State fighters back toward their stronghold of Sirte on Wednesday but lost more than 30 men, including seven killed in a car bombing, officials said.

In a televised statement from the streets of Abu Grain, military spokesman Mohamed al-Gasri said the forces had "liberated" the small town and two nearby villages after heavy fighting.

Western powers are counting on the new government to unify Libya's political and armed factions to take on Islamic State. The government arrived in Tripoli in late March and is still trying to establish its authority.

Islamic State gained control over Sirte last year and has built up its most important base outside Syria and Iraq in the Libyan coastal city. However, it has struggled to hold on to territory elsewhere in Libya.

Islamic State militants overran the town of Abu Grain and several villages after staging suicide attacks against checkpoints in the area on May 5.

The unity government then created a new operations room in Misrata, which announced a campaign to recapture Sirte.

Abu Grain is about 140 km (85 miles) west of Sirte and about 100 km south of Misrata.

The operations room said 32 of its forces had been killed and 50 wounded in Wednesday's fighting, according to a brief statement sent to journalists. Seven died in a car bombing in Buayrat al-Hasun, about 90 km west of Sirte.   Continued...

 
A still image from video released May 17, 2016 shows forces loyal to Libyan unity government celebrating the recapture of Abu Grain, one of the main checkpoints south of the city of Misrata, Libya from Islamic State. MISRATA TV via REUTERS.