ISIS diehards have been now cornered in a very little space in Sirte after the Misrata-led forces advanced in many parts of the terrorists’ last hideouts in residential area 3, 600 neighborhood and sea-view Jiza apartment buildings.
The forces seized Tuesday the civil registry court, Eddekhar Bank, where a number of snipers from ISIS radical group were positioned, and an ammo storage stuffed with ammunition, mines, explosives and other military equipment.
The Libya Observer spoke to the spokesman of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos military operation in Sirte Brigadier Mohammed Al-Ghosri on Wednesday and asked him about the ongoing clashes to eradicate the radical group from the city.
Al-Ghosri said ISIS militants and their families are now besieged in an area of 1 km2 inside Jiza and 600 neighborhood.
He indicated that what has delayed the end of the battle there is the presence of innocent children and women inside with the terrorists, as ISIS families have not agreed to follow the evacuation order, which Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos announced earlier this week.
"We will finish this battle in any way," he said.
Responding to claims of presence of foreign troops in Sirte, Al-Ghosri told the Libya Observer that Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos forces have been supported by foreign, especially British and American, military experts on the ground, giving logistic support from the start of the operation, adding that their forces greatly benefited from the information the foreign experts provided.
“Regarding the forces on the ground, all of them are Libyans, but we in Al-Bunyan AL-Marsoos operation requested assistance from the US air force on August 01 to carry out airstrikes on ISIS locations in Sirte.” Al-Ghasri indicated.
“We thank the US, the UK, Turkey, and Italy for the assistance they have been providing for our forces in the fight against ISIS in Sirte because if it was not for the UK and the US, we would have suffered the loss of thousands of fighters.” He remarked.
There also reports that Algeria and Qatar are also giving logistic support to Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos forces. When asked about this, Al-Ghosri admitted that some Arab countries have helped in the fight against IS in Sirte, but he declined to name them.
“I won’t talk about the Arab countries for a reason.” He said, refusing to reveal that reason.
There are concerns that ISIS could regroup in another region in the country after losing its stronghold city of Sirte, but Al-Ghosri played down that fear.
"After ISIS militants are defeated in Sirte, it would be unlikely for them to pose a threat in Libya because even if they regroup, it would be just by forming sleeper cells and carrying out revenge explosive attacks in Misrata and Tripoli, which are heavily populated, but it's impossible for them to seize another territory." He stated.
Al-Ghosri also said that he cannot give exact figures about IS deaths nor expectations about the number of remaining militants.
Last week, several news outlets reported the death of senior IS leader Hassan Al-Karami, but Al-Ghosri could not confirm that.
“I cannot confirm that Hassan Al-Karami was killed, we don’t know if he was killed and if so, we don’t know who killed him. Is it our air force or the US’s? Therefore, I cannot confirm or deny.” Al-Ghosri explained, pointing out that they have not arrested any IS senior leader yet.
“All of ISIS militants wear explosive belts and are ready to blow themselves up once they reach us, that is why we cannot come in close contact with the remaining of them. One militant wanted to penetrate our forces positions and when a fighter from our forces resisted him, he blew himself up killing the fighter, named Salim Jebreel, with him. So it is very difficult to catch them alive.” Al-Ghosri went on.
He revealed that a military governor will be appointed to rule Sirte after the liberation, which he expected to come very soon. He said after the liberation, the city will need a little time to cleanse it from mines and explosives before its residents can return home.
“Our plan after we cleanse the city from ISIS, we will appoint a military commander that will be in control of all security departments and police apparatuses as well as the municipal council.” He pointed out.
Last week, Sirte IDPs held a meeting in Tripoli to discuss return and compensation. Al-Ghosri said he does not agree with this call and urged for patience.
“Civil societies in Sirte met in Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli and I attended it. They urged for swift return to their houses and compensations for the damages. However, such words are so heavy for the fighters to bear as they are putting their lives on the line for the liberation of Sirte. Compensations cannot be discussed while we are gasping for our injured fighters and our martyrs. They will return after we are totally sure the city is safe and secure,” Al-Ghosri explained.
During the interview, Al-Ghosri expressed his anger over the misleading reports by a number of news outlets. He slammed UAE-funded Libya's Bawabat Al-Wasat newspaper, which is based in Cairo, saying it is the source of false media and faulty news.
"It (Al-Wasat) has reported so many times about submarines coming from France and the US and entering Sirte waters to take ISIS militants out, which is totally untrue." He clarified.
Al-Ghosri said, answering a question about the support of former regime followers to ISIS, that it is widely known that “the enemy of your enemy is your friend," admitting that the radical group has enjoyed some kind of support from Sirte locals for a reason that all Libyans know.