TRIPOLI — The head of Libya’s unity government on Wednesday visited the coastal city of Sirte where loyalist forces have trapped Islamic State group jihadists in their last holdout, officials said.
Fayez al-Sarraj’s visit was his first to Sirte since loyalist forces launched an offensive more than three months ago to drive the jihadists from what had been their main stronghold in North Africa.
The forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said at the weekend that they were preparing to "liberate" the entire city after seizing several IS positions, including its headquarters.
Sarraj and some of his ministers toured former front lines as well as the Ouagadougou conference centre which IS had used as its base, the government said on its Facebook page.
Field commanders briefed him on the offensive and the progress they have achieved as well as the ongoing operations to rout the jihadists from their last holdout in district Number Three, it said.
The media centre of the campaign on Tuesday said pro-GNA forces were advancing inside the district "where the Daesh remnants are entrenched", using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Reda Issa, a spokesman for the loyalist forces, said on Tuesday that "preparations to liberate the entire city" were underway.
"We expect the situation to be resolved in a very short time," he said.
Sarraj issued a similar statement in Sirte, saying "we will continue to chase, with the help of God, the Daesh remnants and strike them wherever they may be in our country".
IS overran the Mediterranean hometown of Libya’s slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi in mid-2015, sparking fears the jihadists would use it as a springboard for attacks on Europe.
The Sunni extremists took advantage of the chaos in oil-rich Libya after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Kadhafi and seized Sirte in June 2015, hoisting their black flag above the city.
More than 400 loyalist fighters have been killed and nearly 2,500 wounded in the battle for Sirte since May, medical sources say. — AFP